Ottawa

Dead fish in Ottawa River 'concerning,' Riverkeeper says

Ontario's Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks says more than a hundred dead fish that appeared in the Ottawa River near Cumberland are coming from the Liè​​​​​​​vre River in Quebec, but has yet to determine the reason for the die off.

Ontario investigators say Liè​​​​​​​vre River in Quebec is source of fish, but cause still unknown

Several different species of fish have been found floating in the Ottawa River near Cumberland in recent days. (Carie McBain)

Ontario's Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks says more than a hundred dead fish that appeared in the Ottawa River near Cumberland are coming from the Lièvre River in Quebec, but it has yet to determine the reason for the die off.

On Monday, Carie McBain, who lives next to the Cumberland-Masson ferry, went to see for herself after noticing a photo of dead catfish on a social media site for Cumberland residents.

When you see a large number of fish and a variety of species, that is concerning and indicates something is going on.- Larissa Holman, Ottawa Riverkeeper

"All you could see were spots bobbing all over the water as far as you can see, and we went up to them and saw big catfish with really huge big bellies, and perch, walleye, rock bass and carp," McBain said. "It was gross."

Other residents found dead fish washed up on the shoreline, she said.

Several residents of Cumberland and nearby Rockland, Ont., called the Ottawa Riverkeeper's pollution hotline Monday to report the die-off.

Dozens of dead fish have been appearing in the Ottawa River near Cumberland in Ottawa's east end. (Carie McBain/Submitted) 0:33

Cause for concern

Larissa Holman, the conservation agency's director of science and policy, said the variety of dead fish is cause for concern.

"If you had something occurring in a single species, [it's likely due to] a natural occurrence that would not necessarily raise alarm bells," she said. "But when you see a large number of fish and a variety of species, that is concerning and indicates something is going on."

Patrick Nadeau, executive director of Ottawa Riverkeeper, says several different species of fish have been found dead in higher-than-usual numbers, leading officials to suspect something in the water may be killing them. 0:55

Ontario's environment ministry sent investigators to the site on Tuesday and determined the Lièvre River, which flows through the Gatineau neighbourhoods of Buckingham and Masson-Angers, was the source.

Officials in Quebec are also responding to reports of dead fish near Masson-Angers, ministry spokesperson Gary Wheeler confirmed in an email.

One of dozens of dead fish Carie McBain and her husband found when they went out in their boat Monday night. (Carie McBain)

No unusual water conditions were observed in the Ottawa River on the Ontario side, the ministry said. 

The City of Ottawa also confirmed the Robert O. Pickard Environmental Centre has operated normally in recent days without any abnormal discharges. 

As a precaution, the ministry said it was notifying the operating authorities of the downstream water treatment plants in Ontario and has reached out to their Quebec counterparts and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to assess whether the die-off is a natural event or related to a spill.

One of dozens of dead fish found floating in the Ottawa River near Cumberland on Monday. (Carie McBain)

Last summer, a large number of catfish died due to columnaris, also called cottonmouth, a disease caused by a bacteria commonly found when water levels are low and water temperatures are high. 

But Holman said given this summer's higher than normal levels, she doesn't think colmunaris is the culprit this time.

"It's always very challenging to determine what is causing such a large fish die-off," she said.  "I'm sure seeing a large number of dead fish would cause concern to some folks."

As a general precaution, the ministry is advising people to avoid eating fish that appear "sick, dying or dead when caught." 

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