Dead fish were trucked from McKechnie pump station to the dump in early February. (Christina Soderholm/Special to The News)

ALONG THE FRASER: More needs to be done to protect all fish

The existing rules are killing fish in the Katzie Slough with impunity

by Jack Emberly/Special to The News

We feel, or have been made to feel, one species has the right to dominate, use, and control another with impunity. We’ve become very disconnected from the natural world.

– Joaquin Pheonix, Academy Awards, 2020


Not everyone is “disconnected.” When Christina Soderholm of Pitt Meadows saw hundreds of fish flopping around inside a fence at McKechnie pump station and weed screen on Feb. 1, she wanted to get them into water before they died.

Last year, jogger Lisa Hickman also saw dying fish here. “What species are they?” she asked city workers. They didn’t know.

“What are you doing with them?”

Taking them to the landfill, she was told.

“I’d never seen anything so horrific,” Hickman said. “I’m still in shock.”

Fast forward. Soderholm sees a woman struggling “to get fish back in the water. She was sticking a shovel through the fence to get them out. I said ‘what can we do to help’?”

RELATED STORY: Dead fish hauled to dump bothers environmentalist

The woman pointed to a Pitt Meadows worker.

“That guy should be doing something,” she said, “but he doesn’t seem interested.”

We feel we have the right to control another species with impunity, until we face people like Soderholm and Hickman.

“I was grabbing them with my hands,” Soderholm recounted. “Life shouldn’t be treated that way. Pitt Meadows should be doing something to fix it. Why are they leaving it up to citizens? It’s disturbing.”

The city worker joined the rescue.

“The guy started shoveling them back into the water, too,” Soderholm said. “The ones we all put back swam off.”

I posted a Facebook video of fish imprisoned on the weed screen next to Soderholm’s photos.

Soderholm called the department of fisheries and oceans.

“Get a file number and demand a call back,” I advised. “And take notes.”

I filed my own complaint.

Nobody at Fisheries and Oceans Canada contacted Soderholm, but Officer Gareth Hurd called me.

He’d seen my video.

“We weren’t able to respond on Saturday,” Hurd explained, “because of technicalities, but we were able to on Monday (Feb. 3). We saw fish killed at the pump station conveyer that drags the debris and fish onto a platform. All the fish were invasive – pumpkin seed, small mouth bass, peamouth chub, catfish, northern pike minnow, and carp, most were carp. The event is under investigation.”

University of B.C. zoologist Eric Taylor, says “native fishes – peamouth chub and northern pike minnow – are protected under the Fisheries Act. If they just summarily dump the live native fish with the invasive pests, yes, it would seem that would be a violation of the F.A. The proper thing to do would be to take time to identify the fish, return all native fish still alive to the water, and euthanize and dispose of any invasives. What about next time? I’d like to see an inventory of how many of what species were being killed by the screen.”

Biologist David Hancock says eagles are starving because of declining salmon runs. Should Pitt Meadows truck any fish to dumps?

Hurd claims invasives, “are known to carry pathogens and parasites that are harmful to native fish species, birds, and humans, and would not be good food sources for the local wildlife.”

“That’s nonsense,” says Hancock. “I’ve never heard of such a thing. DFO is still in the stupid phase. We have 35,000 eagles starving, now we’re removing a natural food source. They’re replacing decreased salmon. DFO doesn’t have a brain, they’re out of touch with reality.”

Gerard Manshanden makes “easily-maintained” fish-friendly Archemedes screw pumps in Holland.

He told me old pumps like the one at McKechnie, aren’t allowed there because “they kill fish, unnecessarily.”

I told him of Hurd’s claim weed screens remove invasive plants, that have “severe negative impact on water quality and fish populations.”

Manshandan said, “It is good for water quality if you don’t take all [the] weeds out. In Holland there is zooplankton that doesn’t have food any more because the nutrients are too low. In the Bodensee in South Germany, there is almost no fish because the water is too clean.”

Within a week of opening my file, Hurd closed it writing, “We will not be taking any action regarding this occurrence.”

Hickman’s file with the B.C. conservation branch was dismissed. Officer, Nicole Caithness concluded, “there are no protections for invasive species under the Wildlife Act.”

The 2019 fish – never identified – were all assumed to be carp, a “controlled alien species” in section 10 of the Wildlife Act. Lawyer Simon Shields says it’s “not directed at animal welfare,” but “protection of humans and their property.”

Does the Fisheries Act protect all fish?

Here’s Hurd’s take: “The new F.A. does include all fish,” but “we also have legislation that covers aquatic invasive species. The Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations protect waterbodies from invasive species and includes managing invasive species once they are introduced.”

In 2017 a report by the Environmental Law Centre (for Watershed Watch) noted “fisheries staff do not generally investigate harm to fish in areas affected by flood control infrastructure.”

In B.C., 275 flood gates and pumps create the dead zones (low oxygen, low flow), invasives enjoy in Katzie Slough.

Pitt Meadows will replace the 100-year-old Kennedy Pump with “like-to-like” pumps that will kill fish well beyond [this] council’s term of office.

The Orwellian double-think “management” argument is that invasive species law “prevents us from moving or transporting invasive species.” In other words, if they try to swim out of the Katzie Slough, they’re killed.

We have become disconnected from the natural world” in the natural place.

– Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist

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