A group of pesky river otters have devastated fish populations at the Kootenay Trout Hatchery over the past few months, after the otters discovered a moat that runs alongside the hatchery.
The Kootenay Trout Hatchery and Visitor Centre is located along the Wardner Fort Steele Road in the Bull River area. They rear millions of baby trout each year to enhance recreational fishing.
Hatchery Manager Owen Schoenberger says he’s not entirely sure where the river otters are coming from, but suspects that they may have travelled from Norbury Creek and across the parking lot to the hatchery.
“We first saw them [otters] back in February; one of our staff saw five of them swimming in the moat here at the hatchery,” explained Schoenberger. “We’ve lost quite a few fish. At one time we had 200 fish [in the moat] that were up to 15 lbs, and now we’re down to around 50 fish.”
He adds that the otters have also gotten into the hatchery’s stocked fishing pond, where families and new anglers practice their skills and learn how to fish.
“The moat and the pond are big attractions, people love to come to learn to fish and feed the fish, but the fish have been a bit shy since the otter attacks,” Schoenberger said. “It’s fairly noticeable as well, a lot of the fish have scars on them, especially on their dorsal fins, which I think is what the otters are using to catch them.”
He adds that he and the team at the hatchery have done all they can do try and deter the otters from stealing the prized fish.
“The fact is that otters are good swimmers and good at catching fish,” Schoenberger said. “We’ve blocked off some of the access to the moat, and installed fish proof panels so they can’t drag the fish out, but the otters can still get in. We had successfully blocked them off for a while, but they figured it out. They were getting in through the pipe to the moat, so we’ve blocked that off as well.”
Schoenberger says that he has consulted both Biologists and Conservation Officers, however they are not in favour of relocating the otters.
“We’re holding our own. The Biologists and Conservation Officers suggested we remove the fish from the moat to deter the otters from coming back, but it hasn’t come to that yet,” explained Schoenberger. “The otters can’t be much more aggressive than they have been. Hopefully they move on.”
He says that over the past weekend there were three otters spotted in the nearby creek. The hatchery also has a wildlife camera set up, which tells them the otters have been hunting early in the morning and at night.
“Last year we had some mink that came through, but they didn’t do any damage,” Schoenberger said. “These otters are just doing what otters do. We’ve had problems with otters in the past, but this is the most persistent group and the first loss of significant numbers.”