Fish Kill Incident on Rivière La Lièvre – FAQs

On July 8th, Ottawa Riverkeeper started getting eyewitness reports of large numbers of dead fish in the Ottawa river in the Rockland/Clarence area. The Québec and Ontario governments identified the source of the fish kill as the Lièvre river, a tributary of the Ottawa river. Several media outlets are covering this incident.

The following questions will be updated as we get more answers.
Latest update: July 12, 2019, 8:30 pm

Frequently Asked Questions

When did the fish kill happen?

We received the first report to our Pollution Hotline at 3:10 pm on July 8th.

The speed at which large quantities of fish were killed points to a fast-acting substance, but until test results are in, it is impossible to pinpoint the start of the incident.

Where did this happen?

The initial reports to our Pollution Hotline were from the Clarence-Rockland area. Once the provincial governments were on site, they identified that the source of the dead fish was the Lièvre river, a tributary of the Ottawa river on the Quebec side. It empties into the Ottawa river at Masson-Angers, upstream of Cumberland. This is downstream of downtown Ottawa and Gatineau. See our map of the area below.

What is the cause of the fish kill?

The cause remains unknown. We await the results of tests performed by authorities.

What do you think is the cause?

We do not want to speculate until more scientific data is available.

How many fish were killed?

It is impossible to tell, but observations point to several hundreds if not thousands. 

It is significant that a wide range of species were affected, from throughout the water column. We received reports of the following: perch, small-mouth bass, rock bass, walleye, muskellunge, channel catfish, longnose gar, as well as protected species such as the American eel, sturgeon and River Redhorse.

Who is investigating this / doing the sampling?

Ontario: The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks took some water samples on Tuesday, July 9. They are working with their Quebec counterparts, who are now taking on most of the investigation as the source has been confirmed as la rivière du Lièvre.

Québec: The Ministère de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques and le Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs are investigating. They collected fish specimens on Tuesday, July 9 which were sent to a laboratory in Saint Hyacinthe, Quebec for necropsy and pathology tests.

Federal: Environment and Climate Change Canada is investigating. They were alerted when we called the Action Spill Centre. They sent staff to the area on Tuesday (9th) evening and Wednesday (10th) morning to collect water and fish samples. On Thursday (11th), their team from Montreal was in the area to investigate three facilities along the Lièvre river. 

When will results be available?

It will take several days for authorities to obtain the results of their respective tests.

Who has jurisdiction over the river?

It is very complicated to decipher jurisdiction of the Ottawa River as depending on the issue, various agencies have authority. As a large portion of the Ottawa River also acts as a provincial border, this only adds to the confusion as different regulations apply depending on what side of the river you are on. Some of the agencies which have jurisdiction for this issue include:

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada
  • Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
  • Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation & Parks
  • Quebec’s Ministère de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques
  • Quebec’s Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs

What is Ottawa Riverkeeper doing?

After receiving a phone call about a suspicious amount of dead fish on the river, we alerted the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry as well as the Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks to report the findings. 

We reached out to the Ministère de la Faune, des Forêts et des Parcs as well as the Ministère de la Lutte contre les Changements Climatiques to provide them with the information we had received through our Pollution Hotline. We are working to obtain information about the actions they have taken, including what samples were collected, as well as the dates, time and locations of the samples.

We have been gathering info and observation reports from our network of Riverwatchers and the general public and sharing those with authorities to assist in determining a cause for the fish kill. 

We were also on site Wednesday and Thursday to observe the aftermath, and speak with witnesses and media.

When contacted by Environment and Climate Change Canada, we provided them with all the information we had collected. 

We remain in regular contact with local, provincial, and federal authorities to ask what steps are being taken to identify the cause and inform the public.

What has Ottawa Riverkeeper been saying to media?

As stewards and defenders of a clean Ottawa River watershed, we continue to engage with media on this issue to inform the public of the latest developments. Here are some of media reports where we are quoted:

What can citizens do?

If you were in the Masson-Angers area on July 8 or 9 and saw something unusual on or near the water, contact our Pollution Hotline to report it. We have a form on our website where you can post your observations. We review every report and contact relevant authorities to help to find a solution to problems brought to our attention.

Ottawa Riverkeeper is a charitable organization. If you are interested in supporting our Pollution Hotline, or our other initiatives, please consider making a donation. We rely on individual donors who care about the river to have the capacity to respond to events such as this one.

Is it safe to swim in the river?

There is no indication that current water quality poses a public health risk. However, the area is still littered with dead fish. We recommend people use their discretion when deciding to swim.

Is it safe to fish in the river?

Out of caution, people should practice catch & release in the Masson-Angers, Cumberland and Clarence-Rockland areas until further notice. (see map below)

Is it safe for area residents to drink their tap water?

Yes, this incident has not impacted water treatment operations. The municipality of Rockland issued a statement confirming that water quality remains unaffected.

How should people dispose of dead fish that wash up on shore?

We have reached out to multiple municipalities and both provinces, and as of yet do not have a definitive answer on how to dispose of the fish carcasses in all regions. We have learned that the City of Ottawa (Cumberland) is accepting the fish in their compost program. We have been informed that guidelines will be available next week

In the meantime, please use caution and common sense when dealing with the carcasses. Avoid throwing dead fish in the river. The government on Ontario page on dealing with dead fish or animals on your property recommends the following precautions:

  • wear rubber gloves or protective material
  • throw away any used gloves or protective material in the garbage
  • wash your hands thoroughly after handling carcasses
  • disinfect any tool that came into contact with the animal

 What about other animals eating the dead fish?

We are also concerned about this issue, but unfortunately have again not received a firm recommendation from either province. We will share any information that is made available to us.

Map of the area

4 responses to “Fish Kill Incident on Rivière La Lièvre – FAQs”

  1. Robert Pollock says:

    Wow. Every question of substance was dodged or answered with a known.

    • Matthew Brocklehurst says:

      Hello Robert, thanks for your feedback. We are actively seeking answers to many of the questions posed here, and these FAQs will be updated as we learn more. We have been in contact with all levels of government involved to keep up to date with their respective investigations. These tests take time, and so we are waiting for them to be completed and the results made available. We will be able to share more concrete answers with the public as we learn them.

  2. Denise says:

    Has anyone stopped to think that perhaps this unfortunate situation is as a result of the July 1 fireworks at Petrie Island?! There was a particular firework that is launched at the river’s surface followed by a huge explosion. At least 5 of these particular fireworks were launched.
    Did they have a permit to use this particular firework? I would think not.
    For earth’s sake we must be more diligent.

    • Matthew Brocklehurst says:

      Hello Denise, thanks for asking. While fireworks can introduce pollutants into the river (see our blog on this subject from 2015), the timeline does not quite match up. As we mention in the FAQ, we suspect a fast acting substance or event, and all reports began on Monday July 8th. This would suggest that whatever happened did so on that day or the night before.

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