All Hugh Francis wants is to be able to take his 11-year-old daughter Livia to see the koi fish and turtles in the lower pond at Central Park.
But after he read about the plan to drain the pond so that all invasive fish — including the snakehead fish believed to be on the loose — would be killed, Francis decided to do something about it.
On Wednesday afternoon, as more than a half dozen city workers set up two pumps to start draining the pond — the plan is to have half the pond drained by Friday, when Environment Ministry officials arrive — Francis twice turned off the pumps.
With the city workers not wanting to get into a confrontation, the pumps remained silent for several hours until just after 2:30 p.m., when word came for the workers to pack up and go home for the day.
"When I read about the plan to drain the pond," said Francis, "I was so mad that I came down to see what I could do. I come here three times a week with my daughter and I'm not going to let this happen. This park belongs to the public, all of us."
Francis said he has the utmost respect for the city workers who were just doing their jobs, but he believes strongly enough in not letting the drainage take place that he decided to do his act of civil disobedience.
"I told them that they have to do what they have to do and I'll do what I have to do," said Francis. "I don't want to get arrested, but if the police come and that's what happens, I'll take it from there."
By 3 p.m., the police had not come and the city workers were busy putting their equipment back into their truck.
"That's great," Francis said of the work being halted for the day. "What I don't understand is they're saying the snakehead will kill all the koi. Now if you drain the lake, you kill the koi too, so what have you gained?"
While Francis received some moral support from onlookers who had come to the pond on an overcast and sometimes sunny afternoon, he was the lone protester making his point heard.
Dixon Choy rode his bike from east Vancouver to see what was happening at the pond.
"I saw the YouTube video and just wanted to see what was happening," said Choy. "It's obviously a bad thing if the snakehead gets into the river, but this pond has been here forever and there's always been koi and turtles here."
The plan to drain the pond was first revealed on June 6.
"We are lowering the level to concentrate fish in smaller areas to assist in the fish-catch operation by [the Environment Ministry] and to study the infiltration and evaporation levels in the pond," Dave Ellenwood, the City of Burnaby's director of parks, recreation and cultural services told the Burnaby NOW earlier.
"Provincial conservation officers will be on hand to identify invasive [species], and these will be removed for disposal," he said.
On May 13, a Burnaby resident filmed a fish that appeared to be a snakehead and posted the video online, sparking a media frenzy and a hunt for the fish.
Ten days later, the provincial government and city staff dragged nets through the pond looking for the snakehead, but they came up empty-handed. Another Burnaby resident has since spotted and filmed the so-called "frankenfish."
Snakeheads are an invasive species that eat other fish, frogs and the occasional small mammal. They can breathe air and wriggle on land, travelling from one body of water to another. Because they are not native to B.C., they have no natural predators to keep them in check. They are sold as pets and as food, so it's likely someone dumped the snakehead in the pond.
Most of the fish in Central Park — koi and carp, for instance — are also invasive species, and the red-eared slider turtles seen there are dumped pets. The pond's fish will likely be killed.
"What [provincial government staff] are concerned with is finding the snakehead. If they find the snakehead, they will remove and dispose of the snakehead. If they find other species of priority concern, they will do that as well," Ellenwood said.
The Environment Ministry's Suntanu Dalal said provincial staff will be using a variety of nets to remove all non-native aquatic species from the pond in order to catch the snakehead.
"The City of Burnaby hopes to restock the pond afterwards with native species, so they have asked provincial staff to remove all non-native species that are caught," he said in an email to the NOW. "We will take them off site, keep some for analysis and humanely euthanize the rest according to animal-care protocols."
The pond's red-eared slider turtles will also be removed and euthanized by a veterinarian, Dalal added.
Ellenwood said the city started lowering the water on May 23. There also are two new nets in the water to help keep the fish concentrated in smaller areas.
Central Park's lower pond is a man-made body of water. The inflow comes from a city pipe, and the outflow runs into another creek in the park, which then flows through the city's drainage system, eventually emptying into the Fraser, Ellenwood explained.
Even though snakeheads have been known to travel on land, Ellenwood did not think the fish could make it to natural waterways, especially because the pond's outflow has been screened off.
"That would be an epic journey, but right now that's impossible," he said.
City staff are scheduled to be back at Central Park's lower pond at 8 a.m. Thursday and Francis has vowed he'll be back too.
"I just want to stop the drainage of this," said Francis. "They always say protests start with one person."
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