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Support Provided for Grief-Stricken Staff After “Catastrophic Failure” Kills Over Twenty Thousand Fish

Support has been provided for staff after “catastrophic failure” killed nearly 21,000 fish, including sturgeon and the endangered Chinook Salmon. The fish died in a freak accident involving chlorine exposure at a UC Davis research facility, university officials said Thursday.

Andy Fell, a spokesperson for the university, said on Tuesday morning, the catastrophe was discovered at a facility outdoors with several large tanks at the UC Davis Center for Aquatic Biology and Aquaculture. The on-site-bred fish was monitored by professional staff overseeing the facility.

Fell said that only a handful of fish managed to live, although rescue attempts were carried out.

“It’s a devastating loss for the site,” he said.

The devastating loss is under investigation by authorities researching processes at other UC Davis aquatic research facilities where chlorine exposure is possible. To help with the grief-stricken staff, those who worked with the fish at UC Davis will be provided support, Fell said.

“We share the grief of the faculty, staff, and students who worked to care for, study, and conserve these animals,” the university said in a statement. “We recognize that this loss is particularly devastating to our community. We commit to understanding what happened and making changes to the facility so that we can ensure that this does not happen again.”

Bioenergetics which is how cells transform energy, and environmental stressors on fish species, including green and white sturgeon and endangered chinook salmon, were the focus of study at the Center for Aquatic Biology and Aquaculture. Both species of fish face continued stressors in the wild in California.

Fell said that Koi and tilapia also perished as a result of the accident. 

The state host two genetically distinct populations of green sturgeon in the state. The southern population is endangered in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. White sturgeon found in the Klamath River and Oregon’s Rogue River is classified as a state species of particular worry.

“We know that many researchers, regulatory agencies, Native American tribes, and other partners trust us to care for their aquatic species,” UC Davis said. “We will work hard to earn that trust by conducting a thorough review of our facilities, holding ourselves accountable for what happened, and taking steps to prevent it from happening ever again.”

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