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PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND FISH KILL

Prince Edward Island officials are investigating whether the province's potato industry is killing its fish.More than 12,000 dead and decaying fish have been collected from Prince Edward Island's lakes and rivers over the past two weeks. "It might be reasonable to say the actual number [of dead fish] is three times that, " Bruce Raymond, a Department of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Environment spokesman, said. "If we picked up 12,000, there's a hell of a lot more than that. " The fear is that PEI's burgeoning potato industry is eroding the soil, making it easy for pesticides and other farm chemicals to drain into water systems, especially after rainfalls. The dead fish have been found at several sites, including the Wilmot River, where more than 6,100 were collected during the weekend. The province has had 17 smaller fish kills dating back to 1994. All but one have been attributed to farm-chemical runoff. "We have a major soil-erosion problem in PEI," Kate McQuarrie of the environmental group Island Nature Trust said Tuesday. "We've been having fish kills for the last six or seven years."

Several years ago, the government agreed to take several steps including the creation of agricultural buffer zones and passing crop-rotation laws to reduce the problem. However, many measures have yet to be introduced. The past two years have seen little rain, which has reduced the use of pesticides. However, this year the rains have returned and the fish have been dying in large numbers. "It is alarming," said Mr. Raymond, who added that the issue is a top priority for the government. The problem also affects PEI's recreational-fishing industry, which is dwarfed by the province's potato industry. A 1999 report by the Atlantic Salmon Federation pins the dead-fish problem on potato farmers, and it says that farming practices must change.

"Potato production has almost doubled in the past 10 years and farmers are slow to implement soil-conservation practices," the report says. Up to four million tonnes of soil end up in streams, along with chemical residue, the report says. "Exposed soil means soil erosion and chemical spray means water-borne toxins." Several years ago, stakeholders come up with recommendations meant to curtail the problem; however, not all those suggestions have been implemented. Mr. Raymond said the province must determine whether existing policies are enough. Counting the dead fish is difficult because by the time officials reach the affected areas many fish have decayed. In addition to the 6,100 dead fish collected from the Wilmot this weekend, 1,500 were found in another watercourse. On July 10, 4,500 were collected from the Wilmot. Most were brook trout, lake trout and sticklebacks.

By COLIN FREEZE
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Tuesday, July 23

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