Fishing guides try to keep anglers' dead fish concerns at bay

Local fishing businesses say they're trying to allay anglers' fears as more than 2,000 dead fish have been discovered in recent weeks along Ottawa River shoreline.

Guide says he's hearing from people around the world about mysterious die-off

Local fishing guides say the unexplained deaths of thousands of fish haven't significantly scared anglers away — but they worry that could happen soon. (Lorian Belanger/CBC)

Local fishing businesses say they're trying to allay anglers' fears as more than 2,000 dead fish have been discovered in recent weeks along Ottawa River shoreline.

Since early July, four waves of dead fish have washed up in the area where the Lièvre River joins the Ottawa River, near the eastern Gatineau community of Masson-Angers.

"It affects much more than than my business. It affects my life," said John Anderson, a fishing guide and the owner of the Ottawa River Musky Factory.

Guide John Anderson is the owner of the Ottawa River Musky Factory. (Supplied)

'It's where we live'

Anderson said his clients come from all over the U.S., Europe and South America — and while he hasn't had any cancellations, he's having to reassure people nearly every day that the local fishing is still viable.

While the river remains a tourist destination for now, Anderson said he's starting to worry that the fish die-off will begin affecting people's vacation decisions. 

"I make a living taking them fishing, and I get a letter every couple of days from somebody [concerned about the dead fish]," he said.

"It's where we live. It's our livelihood [and] it's our passion."

Yannick Loranger, owner of Ottawa River Guided Fishing, says he's had to move his operations upstream or downstream to avoid the areas where the dead fish are appearing. (Facebook/Ottawa River Guided Fishing)

Yannick Loranger, owner of Ottawa River Guided Fishing, hasn't had any cancellations yet either — but he has noticed that fewer people are seeking his services.

"Last year at this time, I was fielding probably half a dozen inquiries a day. I was unfortunately turning people down ... but this year I am noticing that I am getting less inquiries now," Loranger said.

"People are a little bit turned off [by] the Ottawa River, I guess. I'm still booked solid, so it's not catastrophic or anything. But yes, I am a little bit less busy than I was last year."

What's even more concerning for Anderson are the birds he's seen eating the washed up fish. 

"People sent me pictures yesterday of a flock of vultures and eagles and other assorted birds gorging on the fish at the mouth of the river," Anderson said.

"I've watched the eagles pick dead fish off the water for a few weeks now, and just worry that there's toxins in those fish that are going to affect the eagle population. And that's not something that you can replace."

Hydro plant investigation

A hydro plant along the Lièvre River in the east Gatineau community of Masson-Angers is being investigated in the deaths, according to Quebec Environment Minister Benoit Charette.

Necropsies on the first dead fish determined they likely died from a toxic spill. But in a French-language interview with Radio-Canada, the minister said there was no such spill — and that it's the "operations of the plant" that are in question.

A spokesperson for plant operator Evolugen has said nothing has changed about the company's operations or the way it produces electricity, and that they "do not add anything to the water of the river."

Patrick Nadeau, executive director of Ottawa Riverkeeper, said there are still too many questions left unanswered.

"We don't understand on what basis they are able to rule out chemical spill. In fact, the government's own lab data shows that the dead fish were most likely dead from an acute intoxication," Nadeau said.

"When you publicly name a company like that, you have to explain how their operations could have caused these deaths. And right now we have no idea."

With files from Laura Osman


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.