POWELL RIVER, B.C- The police in Powell River want to know who killed the fish.
On Wednesday, the town’s RCMP detachment reported that a mass fish death had occurred at a hatchery near Duck Lake between December 28th and December 31st.
Someone entered the hatchery site and tampered with the flow valves, resulting in the death of around 700,000 chum salmon.
Speaking to Global BC, Powell River Salmon Society president Ed Oldfield indicated that stand pipes leading into fish tanks were removed at the site, with nine flow valves being changed. That altered the flow of water, and caused a lack of oxygen for the chum salmon in those tanks.
Around 700,000 of the fish died.
According to Constable Chris Bakker of the Powell River RCMP, who is assigned to the investigation, leads in the case are now being followed up on.
There were no cameras at the site at the time of the tampering, and he’s now working with the society to upgrade their security. It’s unknown how many people were involved in what happened, but Bakker stated that evidence was found at the scene, and possible witness information has been provided to police.
“As long as I’ve been a police officer in Powell River, I’ve never dealt with anything like this before,” said Bakker.
He asked those responsible to get in touch with police, and is also looking for more information from the public.
“We’d like to know why this was done, and who was responsible for this, as it obviously has huge impact on the community and the salmon stock in the area,” said Bakker.
Oldfield told the MyPowellRiverNow.com newsroom that the Duck Lake hatchery has been operating for the past 35 years without any issues with vandalism or tampering. Most traffic to the site is with trucks or quads, due to the site being located roughly ten kilometres up a logging road. A gate bars the road that leads down to the hatchery.
Someone would have to walk a few hundred yards from the gate to the facility.
“I honestly cannot believe that anybody would go up there, and kill fish,” said Oldfield.
“But (maybe), they’re curious, they want to know how valves work, they turn them. The consequence is fish die.”
Oldfield didn’t think those responsible were from Powell River.
“We’ve operated in a culture where people respect outdoors in Powell River, and the natural resources that we have,” said Oldfield.
“This is highly unusual.”
The facility can’t restock this year, and are now focused on trying to save the coho, chinook, and chum salmon they have left.
“We hold our breath and we wait for four years from now,” said Oldfield.
“We assess how many fish come back and make a plan for how we’re going to keep salmon viable in Powell River and Lang Creek.”
As for an earlier-mentioned 16-year impact on salmon stocks, Oldfield said that may be the worst-case scenario after having had some time to think about what happened.
“We don’t take eggs from all of the fish that go up the river.”
“So, at least, we’re in the neighbourhood of at least 75 per cent of the chum that go up that river, went up the river and spawned naturally. So, as long as they have a good year, it might not damage it significantly, it might not. We aren’t really going to know, until we get a count four years from now.”
They’re working to put in fences and video cameras at the hatchery site, which will come at a cost. As for what he would say to the culprits, Oldfield left it up to the police.
“RCMP can deal with that, our legal system can deal with that,” said Oldfield.
“I’m interested in how to help the salmon thrive in Lang Creek.”
He asked residents to be mindful of the hatchery system.