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Unusual fish found near shores of Shuswap Lake startles residents, government officials

This fish was discovered near the shores of Shuswap Lake in the community of Canoe Feb. 23, 2016. Initially mistaken for a Snakehead, the fish was later identified as a Bichir.
Image Credit: Facebook
March 07, 2016 - 8:00 PM

CANOE - Fisheries staff had quite the scare last month when a strange fish showed up near the shores of Shuswap Lake.

The dead fish was discovered by local residents in an alley behind Canoe General Store, about a block from Shuswap Lake, on Feb. 23, 2016. Having never seen a fish like it in the Salmon Arm area, the concerned citizens reported it to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Fisheries took the report seriously, and dispatched two officers to the scene to collect the specimen, determine its possible origin and conduct interviews with local residents and store employees. Provincial authorities were also notified about the possible invasive species. 

Fisheries officer David Boyle says the fish was initially thought to be a Snakehead — a non-native fish originating from China — that can wreak havoc on local ecosystems if introduced. Snakeheads can air breathe, and are able to walk on their fins across dry land, Boyle says.

“This means that if it were introduced into a lake or stream it could potentially spread to neighbouring lakes and streams and multiply,” Boyle says.

Concerns were alleviated when the fish was identified as a Bichir, an African species similar in appearance to a Snakehead, but unlikely to survive in the local climate for very long. Bichirs are aquarium fish and can be bought online and in pet stores. They are currently not listed as an aquatic invasive species in Canada, Boyle says.

“We’re all very glad it was not a snakehead,” he says.

Residents wasted no time notifying the Department of Fisheries and Oceans of a strange fish found near Shuswap Lake.
Residents wasted no time notifying the Department of Fisheries and Oceans of a strange fish found near Shuswap Lake.
Image Credit: Facebook

While less of a threat than a Snakehead, Boyle says the Bichir could still have harmed local waterways.

“An exotic fish such as what they (residents) found, you never know what kind of bacteria could be on the fish,” Boyle says, adding imported fish or aquarium fish that are transferred from tank to tank can pick up various diseases.

Fisheries officers still don’t know how the fish got there, but suspect someone disposed of it after it died or outgrew its aquarium. Officials are reminding the public that releasing unwanted pet fish into the wild is not the right way to get rid of it. Instead, they suggest rehoming it, approaching a local pet store, or humanely euthanizing it and disposing of it accordingly. Introducing invasive species into a water body is an offence under the Fisheries Act and can lead to serious legal action such as fines or jail time.

"Fisheries and Oceans Canada was concerned due to the fact the Bichir was found very close to Shuswap Lake, a lake that is used by several salmon species during their lifecycle such as Chinook, sockeye, coho and pink," Boyle says. 

If you find a possible invasive species, Boyle says to do exactly what the Canoe residents did.

“I would say they did the right thing reporting it as soon as they found it, and leaving it where they found it, which is also important,” Boyle says. “If it had been alive and they tried to release it, it could cause serious problems for the ecosystem.”

If a member of the public discovers a possible invasive species they are asked to report it immediately by visiting this webpage and choosing one of the reporting options including electronic, by phone or by the new “Report Invasive Species APP” for smartphones. Other options include the Report All Poachers & Polluters (RAPP) line at 1-877-952-7277 or the Observe, Record, Report (ORR) line at 1-800-465-4336.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016
InfoTel News Ltd

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