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A dead cutthroat trout is removed from Byrne Creek in Burnaby after stream watchers found hundreds of young cutthroat and coho salmon floating in a suspicious substance. (PAUL CIPYWNYK)
A dead cutthroat trout is removed from Byrne Creek in Burnaby after stream watchers found hundreds of young cutthroat and coho salmon floating in a suspicious substance. (PAUL CIPYWNYK)

Environment

Industrial fluid suspected in fish deaths Add to ...

Environment Canada and the city of Burnaby are looking into an incident where as many as a thousand young fish died in an urban creek that empties into the Fraser River.

It's believed the fish were killed by a hazardous material - possibly an industrial cleanser - poured into a nearby storm drain, which then flowed into the creek.

One of the first people on the scene was Paul Cipywnyk, a volunteer local stream watcher, who received a call from a city official last Thursday. Mr. Cipywnyk raced to the creek with his wife.

He discovered hundreds of dead fish floating in a foamy, brown substance that smelled of ammonia. This is the third major fish kill in the creek since 1998, he said.

"We knew immediately that there was a serious spill," Mr. Cipywnyk said. His group monitors the health of the creek's watershed.

Byrne Creek is home to cutthroat trout as well as coho salmon. The dead fish were mostly coho fry and smolts.

Mr. Cipywnyk said the foamy substance appeared to be a cleanser. "If you put your hand in it, it had a soapy, slick-like feel to it. We're assuming it had to be industrial-related, because if somebody just poured a pail of household stuff down a drain, then I don't think it would have had that much of an effect.

"It was probably a fair-size spill into a storm drain somewhere on a street in the upper watershed."

Christine Ensing, a Burnaby Environmental Services officer, said the city has counted about 300 fish carcasses along an upper stretch of the creek, but said there could be as many as a thousand dead fish. Mr. Cipywnyk put the number as high as two thousand.

Meanwhile, Environment Canada is examining water samples from the creek and the city of Burnaby is looking at the fish carcasses.

It's the second big spill on the creek in the past 12 years, said Ms. Ensing, who described it as "significant."

"From what I gather, it seemed to wipe out all life from the point of discharge," she said.

Mr. Cipywnyk said he and his wife walked along the creek's bed last Thursday for approximately one kilometre to view the extent of the damage. There were no dead fish downstream at the time, but the next morning, they were evident throughout the creek.

In an e-mail, Environment Canada spokeswoman Tracy Lacroix-Wilson said the department was "continuing to collect information related to this incident, which may lead to an investigation." No one at Environment Canada was available for an interview Monday.

The federal Fisheries Act prohibits the deposit of a substance harmful to fish or fish habitat. If convicted, violators face a $300,000 fine.

Mr. Cipywnyk said he and his fellow volunteers try to raise awareness about the dangers of pouring hazardous material down storm drains. They go door-to-door speaking to local residents and businesses.

Mr. Cipywnyk said the creek will recover, "but it will take years to get it back to where it was." He hopes some eggs have survived deep in the gravel. "We'll be watching the creek closely in the next few weeks to see if any little guys pop up."

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