CALGARY — Adam Turnbull has been catching fish in the South Saskatchewan River for 17 years and had never seen anything like it.
Turnbull, 28, was reeling in a northern pike near his home in Medicine Hat last weekend and immediately realized something wasn’t quite right.
“When I first saw the fish in the water, I thought maybe it had been attacked by another pike or a walleye … until I actually picked the fish out of the water and noticed the plastic,” Turnbull said Wednesday in a phone interview.
The plastic was a sports drink wrapper that had nearly cinched the pike in two in the middle of its body.
“I was surprised he was able to survive like that with how big of a wound that was. It was at least three-quarters of an inch deep all the way around,” said Turnbull, who added he was angry at what the fish must have gone through.
“People would think it’s a small, tiny little wrapper. What’s it going to do if I chuck it on the ground? Well, there’s your proof of what it does. I’ve never seen it first-hand myself so I was shocked,” he said.
“I definitely did feel sorry for it. When I picked it up, I felt horrible for the fish. To see it obviously in pain was pretty sad.”
Turnbull said the plastic belt around the fish didn’t seem that tight and he was able to cut it off with a pair of scissors. He said it didn’t dawn on him to keep the fish.
“It never even crossed my mind to kill it, because if it survived this long with it, why wouldn’t it survive without it?
“It definitely had some life. As soon as I put it in the water after getting the wrapper off, it darted out of my hand and it didn’t even have a weird kick to its tail. It swam normally.”
A conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association said the pike’s plight isn’t uncommon.
Joanna Skrajny said it shows what kind of an effect something as simple as a plastic wrapper can have on nature.
“It seems to be getting more and more common. There are cases where nesting birds have so much plastic in their stomachs that they are unable to eat,” she said.
Skrajny isn’t sure about the pike’s survival chances, but doesn’t blame Turnbull for letting it go.
“The longer a fish is out of water the lower the chance of survival, but it makes you feel good that someone did the right thing.”
Turnbull took to social media to express his outrage and share the photos of the fish.
“Pick up your garbage. This is a … wrapper which takes up no room in your pocket until you get to a garbage can. Please share!”
“I’m happy it’s raising as much awareness,” he said.
“I’m glad a lot of people are able to see this is what your trash does. If it helps some people pick up some extra garbage, then, hey, I’m happy.”