North River fish kill 'devastating', says P.E.I.'s environment minister

Ryan Ross
Published on August 11, 2014

Google map of the North River.

©Submitted photo

After going years without a fish kill in the North River, an investigation is underway to find what killed more than 1,000 fish in the waterway four days ago.

It was P.E.I.’s first fish kill of the year.

Karalee McAskill with the Cornwall and Area Watershed Group was one of the people out collecting dead fish Monday and said that before the weekend she had thought there might not be any widespread kills this year because they usually happen in July.

“I am so surprised,” she said.

Over the weekend officials from the Agriculture Department responded to the kill and the Environment Department has since taken over the investigation, which is still underway.

The species killed included rainbow trout, brook trout, stickleback and Atlantic salmon.

McAskill, who spoke to The Guardian by phone as she was finishing with the cleanup along an eight-kilometre stretch Monday, said more than 1,000 dead fish were collected Sunday and about another 100 were picked up Monday.

Normally her group’s work involves enhancing and restoring the fish habitat, including removing barriers and capturing sediment, McAskill said.

“Today we’re just picking up dead fish,” she said.

Although it is too early to say what caused the fish kill, a provincial biologist told The Guardian on Sunday that samples from the scene showed oxygen levels and water quality were fine.

Along with water testing, soil engineers also responded immediately when the fish kill was reported.

In responding to news of the incident, Environment Minister Janice Sherry said the word that came to mind for her with any fish kill was devastation.

“It’s not anything any of us want to hear about or deal with,” she said.

Sherry said the province has been working to collaborate with industry and watershed groups to work on solutions.

That’s what she said happened with the Action Committee for Sustainable Land Management, which was established after a 2012 fish kill in Barclay Brook in western P.E.I.

“I would say that that’s probably monumental to a starting point of success, hopefully.”

That group made 18 recommendations, which included implementing soil conservation measures, but not all of those measures are in place.

Opposition politicians have been quick to criticize Sherry for what has become an annual problem in P.E.I. with environment critic Colin LaVie saying that she has to fulfill her duty to protect Island waterways and find a solution to fish kills.

“Fish kills can no longer be an annual occurrence,” he said.

NDP leader Mike Redmond said the government doesn’t care about water quality in P.E.I.

“This premier and his environment minister should be well and truly ashamed of themselves and their continued inaction,” Redmond said.

“Another example of widespread havoc wreaked by industrial agriculture,’’ said Sharon Labchuk of the environmental group, Earth Action. “We’ve had 50 years of toxic assault by the potato industry and the usual response from government is to improve regulations.”

Sherry responded to criticism by saying people in the industry and in government are focused on having no fish kills.

“To say that there isn’t any work happening I think that is not the way it is,” she said.

For McAskill, the reason the she was so disappointed was because the fish kill will slow down re-population efforts.

“We’re trying our best to protect them.”