Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAY.com

BRACEBRIDGE — Dozens of Muskoka’s largest spawning fish have been dumped and found rotting in the south branch of the Muskoka River near the Ontario Power Generation (OPG) station.

And Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) officials are looking for help from witnesses in finding the poachers.

Conservation officers located 64 rotting walleye carcasses, some of which were left whole to waste after they were “detected by a member of the public.”

Walleye are the primary fish in Muskoka Lakes — along with bass. And they can live to be 20 years old.

David Murphy, at the Bracebridge office, said he’s never seen anything like this himself in his five years as a conservation officer.

Of the more than five dozen fish found the majority were about 18 inches long and were at least six years old.

He says the fish were spawning and had reached the end of the river where the water is

turbulent and it meets Lake Muskoka.

“The largest fish in the lake are the spawners and they need moving water to keep the eggs alive.”

He doesn’t believe walleye can’t spawn under the age of four.

The fish were found at the bottom of the south branch of the Muskoka River, off Hwy. 11 at the OPG station, where there’s a canoe portage.

MNRF got the report May 21 and Murphy suspects that based on the decay they were gutted and left along shore over more than one day — likely between April 15 and May 15 — because spawning happens over several days.

He said they may have been “speared,” as it’s unlikely anyone could have caught this many fish with a fishing pole.

And by more than one person: “It’s a lot of fish for one person to do on their own.”

MNRF officials are investigating the remains of 64 walleye gutted and left by poachers to rot in the south branch of the Muskoka River some time between April 15 and May 15. (MNRF photo)

He tells MuskokaTODAY.com that “evidence of the unlawfulness of this” is that whoever did this was not only trespassing on OPG property, but illegally fishing out of the season on two accounts.

“The Muskoka River is a sanctuary from April 1 to June 15. So within the boundaries of the north and south branches of the Muskoka River there’s no angling of any kind permitted.”

And it likely took place before the local walleye season began, which here in Zone 15 opened on May 19.

As well, there’s wastage of fish, which is an offence under the Ontario fishing regulations.

A “flush of edible fish has gone to waste,” Murphy laments

Not to mention safety violations on OPG property as well.

Contravention officers also found odd litter, including 13 AAA batteries discarded along the shore.

Murphy, who went to the site says that could also point to overnight fishing with the culprits perhaps having to change batteries mid-stream.

He also suspects the perpetrators weren’t weekend fishermen but may have known what they were doing was illegal.

“My belief is that this could be a recurring thing, because the fish spawn every year at the same spot. So it’s quite feasible these people will have done this before, but the exception is that they’ve been detected by a member of the public.”

The carcasses were wasted and “not fit for human consumption.”

There was nothing salvageable from the carcass biologically. Anything viable would have been destroyed the second the fish died.”

So there was no opportunity to recoup any of the remains for future use.

Murphy said the MNRF does have a spawning hatchery.

But the Muskoka River offers an exceptional spawning habitat, so that’s one reason we don’t stock Lake Muskoka with walleye. And in this situation these spawning areas have been identified and my belief is that perpetrators that are responsible for this.

As for the fish, all they could do is let them degrade naturally in the waterway.

Murphy asks that if you have information on this incident to contact him at 705-646-5507.

“It’s possible people may have seen something, but didn’t know it was illegal.”

“We’re hopeful we can get some helpful information from the public. I’m sure we’ll be hearing from a lot of people.”

You can also report a resource violation or provide information about an unsolved case, by calling call the ministry TIPS line toll free at 1-877-847-7667 or contact your local ministry office. You can also call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS.

Conservation officers continue to patrol and protect natural resources during the current COVID-19 outbreak and remind everyone that by respecting seasons, sanctuaries, bag and possession limits we all help ensure our natural resources stay healthy.

For more information, you can visit Ontario’s website to learn more about how the province continues to protect Ontarians from COVID-19.

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