Lisa Alexander walks the beach in Parksville almost every morning looking for interesting things, but on Friday she found something different and disturbing.
Thousands of dead herring were lining the beach along the high tide line.
“There was herring everywhere, dead all along the shoreline,” Alexander told CHEK News. “They’re all dead and the birds aren’t eating them, and I’m just kind of concerned about how they got here and what’s happening out there in our ocean.”
The highest concentrations of dead fish appeared at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park but have been found farther north for a few days.
Brenna Lerch saw them Wednesday as well.
“Absolutely concerned,” she said. “They were fresh, they didn’t have any damage on the outside of them. They looked perfectly healthy to me, just not alive.”
Adding to the mystery Friday was how the seagulls and eagles flying overhead showed no interest in eating what would typically be an easy meal.
“Is this something natural, a natural process?” asked Lerch. “But I’ve never heard of such a thing or seen such a thing before.”
Theories about all the dead fish ranged from something environmental or a loud explosion that many people had reported hearing earlier this week in the same area.
CHEK News contacted Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) on Wednesday when the first reports of dead herring were shared.
On Friday, DFO revealed that it had determined the dead herring resulted from a malfunction onboard a herring seiner.
“Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) Conservation and Protection branch received a report on Jan. 18 that a herring seine vessel released a set of herring and anchovies in the area while engaged in an open Food and Bait herring fishery,” read a statement released Friday.
“Fishery Officers boarded the seine vessel, conducted an inspection and determined that no fisheries violations had occurred.
“Releases of sets occur occasionally in the Food and Bait fishery and are permitted under the Conditions of Licence in specific situations and typically occur with minimal associated mortality. In this case, mechanical failure resulted in a delay in the ability to release the fish, potentially leading to increased mortality. It is possible that fish may continue to wash up on local beaches over the next few days.”