Hundreds of dead fish washing up on the shoreline raises climate concerns for northern campers

Campers at Ivanhoe Lake Provincial Park west of Timmins had a startling week after finding what some estimated to be hundreds of dead fish washed up along the beaches and shorelines.

John Laking, who made the trip up from Halliburton for a summer stay, said this was certainly not what he expected to see.

"There were (possibly) thousands of herring and whitefish," Laking said. "Kudos to the park people -- they cleaned up for almost four days."

Park staff told CTV that more fish washed ashore each day, making it exhausting to dispose of them before they began to rot.

Campers like Timmins' Daniel Bouvier even pitched in, worried the stench would eventually attract bears.

"I ended up getting a pail and a green garbage bag and I just threw them all in," Bouvier said, who has camped in the area for more than 20 years.

"I asked the park authorities (what they're doing) ... they said they're just picking them up and bringing them to the landfill site."

People reported the incident to the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry, asking for an investigation into the cause.

Regional outreach specialist Meghan Forbes told CTV an investigation is ongoing and that several factors could play into a mass die-off of fish.

"These deaths can be caused by disease, toxins, stress from spawning or changing water temperatures -- or even low oxygen levels in the water," Forbes said.

Low oxygen is the most likely cause, she said, noting that shallow waters, rising temperatures and increased plant and algae growth can all lead to decreased oxygen levels in lakes.

That limits the number of fish a lake can support, Forbes said, adding there's little that can be done about the naturally occurring phenomenon.

A recent study from the University of Regina, however, argued this is an increasingly global issue exacerbated by humans.

The study noted the warming of the planet also warms lakes, with warmer water unable to hold as much oxygen, directly affecting fish populations.

Human activity near lakes can add extra nutrients to lakes, the study said, which can lead to the production of more algae that consume more oxygen.

The situation leaves campers worried about the impacts on local fish populations.

"I'm concerned," said Bouvier.

"It's the environment that's hurting and it hits home when you actually experience it."