When fishing tournaments go wrong

What lessons can be learned from a tragic fish kill?


DAVE CHONG, pro angler


Q: What should have been done to prevent the fish deaths?

First of all, this situation should have never happened, I am not a fan of early-season tournaments, especially in a system where there are often late spawners. On Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River the smallmouth are regularly spawning well into July, never mind during a potentially late spring. This is one of the reasons that I was thrilled to see the MNRF push back the smallmouth bass season opener a couple of weeks into July in 2021! This will give the larger majority of the fish a chance to successfully complete their spawning cycle.

I spoke to Ben Woo at the B1 event the previous fall in Valleyfield where he originally announced this event that we are discussing and advised him against holding it on those dates. My concerns were if there was a late spring/spawn then it would just become a bed-fest which I have no interest in being part of. With invasive species like the round goby in this waterway, when a smallmouth is pulled off its bed, the nest and its eggs will be quickly ravaged! Even if it was a normal spring, the smallies will still be recovering from the rigids of the spawn and are very fragile at that point. I also suggested that he contact Dr. Bruce Tufts and his lab at Queens University for his advice and potential help with fish care, which Mr. Woo said that he would do but obviously didn’t.


I do believe that the B1’s original plans were to hold the weigh-in on the Gananoque waterfront which definitely would have resulted in far less casualties. Once they were advised that due to a scheduling conflict that they would have to hold the weigh-in elsewhere, Mr. Woo and the B1 should have postponed the event until such a time that they could hold it on the Gananoque waterfront where the fish would have access to main river water.

Once they decided to move the weigh-in to Clark’s Marina in the Bateau Channel, there was going to be a higher-than-normal death rate regardless. I have personally launched my boat out of Clark’s Marina dozens of times and believe that the water back in the marina is dead water. You don’t even see any signs of life back there, no panfish or baitfish etc. The only chances that there was to keep that number of big fish alive and released successfully would have been:

a) To have significant ice and aeration in the holding tanks! There is some dispute as to whether this was the case or not.

b) Have a proper live release boat with chillers and oxygen tanks aboard available to take the fish out to the main channel. Or, have the anglers/competitors take their own fish back out to the main channel as soon as they were weighed in.

After the day 1 weigh-in where they have a significant loss rate, I feel that the organization should have either cancelled the 2nd day or at the very least contacted Dr. Tufts and his lab for their advice and possibly help. Nobody understands the fish in this system better than they do.

Q: What should have been done after it happened rather than put the fish in a dumpster?

When an unfortunate situation like this occurs, transparency is the key. Firstly, any dead fish should have been put on ice and donated to Dr. Tufts’ lab for research or to a local food bank so they wouldn’t be wasted. Again, as I stated in my answer to the first question, I believe that this tournament should never have been held at this time of year and definitely not in this location but sometimes shit happens.

This tragic fish loss should have been reported to the MNRF so that the necessary steps could be taken to ensure that it never happens again. This is not the first time that a major event held on the St. Lawrence River—the 2018 Bassmaster Elite series event out of Waddington, N.Y.—had a significant fish kill as well. However, it was not hidden from the N.Y. Fish & Game. As opposed to the B1 event, many of the fish survival issues at the B.A.S.S. were due to lack of fish care on behalf of the anglers. The following year, the entire field was required to attend a fish care seminar put on by I do believe Barb Elliott, the conservation director for the B.A.S.S. Federation. They were taught how to properly fizz fish and keep their fish nice and healthy until weigh-in time. Needless to say the following year there was very minimum fish losses.

NOTE: For statements from Ben Woo and B1 Fishing go to www.outdoorcanada.ca/b1reply