Hundreds of fish killed in Burnaby's Byrne Creek

City staff found the creek had elevated pH levels the day before the fish were found dead

Paul Cipywnyk / Supplied

Hundreds of dead fish have been found in Burnaby’s Byrne Creek, says a volunteer who monitors the health of the stream.

Paul Cipywnyk told the Beacon the Byrne Creek Streamkeepers were called down to the area on Wednesday Jan. 25, after city staff saw a few of the fish floating in the water.

The streamkeepers were founded in 1999 with the mission of monitoring the health of Byrne Creek—which was once a salmon stream before it was cut off to the Fraser River by a pump station. In the 1980s, the city reconnected it to the river and there have been efforts since then to repopulate the urban stream with fish like salmon, trout, and others.

When Cipywnyk (who is the president of the organization) and a few fellow volunteers got to the scene on Wednesday, they counted several hundred dead fish.

“A combination of various species were dead. Coho salmon—they have to live in the creek for one year before they go out into the ocean. So they will stay in the creek until they're what we call teenagers, about a year and a half old, at the smolt stage,” he said.

“There are cutthroat trout that are residents year round. There were some beauties [about] 25-30 centimeters long that we found dead. There are other species that use the creek like stickleback—and actually we had not been seeing stickleback for a long time. But after this pollutant came down the creek and killed everything, we found lots of dead stickleback.”

The group also counted dead lamprey, along with a few crayfish, frogs, and aquatic worms.

“Basically, it looks like whatever came down the creek pretty much wiped everything out. Initially, I was kind of holding out hope that it wasn't as bad as it might be. But the city staff told me they have a monitor down in the creek,” Cipywnyk said.

“… Something entered the creek that spiked the pH levels. And unfortunately, they spiked for a long period of time.”

The City of Burnaby confirmed that it is looking into the issue, and estimated that about 350 fish were killed in the incident. Staff estimate that pH levels in the water were elevated from their normal levels beginning the afternoon of Jan. 24 and overnight into the 25th.

The cause of the spike is still being investigated. Environment and Climate Change Canada confirmed that it is also investigating the issue, and sent a staff person to Byrne Creek on Wednesday.

While it’s not clear what exactly killed the fish in this incident, it’s not the first time that pollutants have entered the water at Byrne Creek.

Last year, the water turned temporarily white after 43,000 litres of milk were accidentally released into the stream. That incident didn’t appear to cause too much damage—but Cipywnyk said that contaminants have been an “ongoing issue” in Byrne Creek, causing many fish kills over the years.

“We’ve never had sewage issues in our creek, but we do get a lot of construction site silt. Construction sites, sometimes they will dump out their excavations following a rain. They’re not supposed to do that directly into storm drains; they’re supposed to filter the stuff first,” Cipywnyk said in March 2022.

“But I think sometimes they cut corners, because over the last year, there was a stretch of there when we were seeing silt coming down the creek every week, sometimes several times a week.”

Stoney Creek, another urban stream near Burnaby Lake, has also had its fair share of contamination incidents.

The fish kill comes weeks after Cipywnyk spotted dozens of dead crows along the Central Valley Greenway near Still Creek. Environment Canada is investigating the cause of those deaths, including whether they were linked to the avian flu, and said there had been an increased number of crow mortalities in the region

With files from Dustin Godfrey.