Milford Ma. – Richard Prunier is usually knee-deep in fish eggs on Monday mornings, but since the story broke about a teddy bear attack at the Milford Fish Hatchery, he's been awash in media calls.
Last week, employees at the hatchery, which provides local streams and ponds with live trout, discovered that one of the pools of 1-year-old rainbow trout was not receiving fresh water. About 2,500 fish died from lack of oxygen. The culprit was a child's teddy bear, dressed in a yellow rain slicker and a matching hat, which had somehow become lodged in a pipe that feeds fresh water to the pool.
The deaths prompted the hatchery to release a written warning: "RELEASE OF ANY TEDDY BEARS into the fish hatchery water IS NOT PERMITTED."
Prunier, his sense of humor intact, has mustered up a bit of sympathy for the bear that caused all this mess.
"He got beat up pretty good," he said yesterday, holding the toy carefully, a telltale weed poking out from the bear's hat. "Somebody's going to see him on TV and say, 'Hey, that's Susie's bear.'"In the meantime, Prunier is suggesting a simple piece of advice to parents who allow their children to bring toys with them to the hatchery.
"Tie a string on them," he said.
Prunier said that the stock at the hatchery, which produces nearly 175,000 brook, rainbow and brown trout each year and hatches around two million trout eggs, was not severely impacted by the death of the 2,500 fish.
"We always put extra fish out," Prunier said.
It's not uncommon for the pipes that drain and feed the dozens of breeding ponds to become clogged, and in the past, employees have found weeds, birds, even an occasional otter or muskrat backing up the works, he said.