Acid runoff from this abandoned Mount Washington copper mine effectively killed the Tsolum River. The work of the TRRS has been integral in the river’s revival. Photo submitted

Tsolum River salmon count results in

More salmon returning to river which was declared “dead” in 1999

The Tsolum River Restoration Society (TRRS) has completed their annual spawning pink salmon count, and estimates that at least 84,000 pinks returned to the Tsolum River to spawn in fall 2017. Fish were observed moving into the river as early as August 22, with peak spawning occurring in late September. 2017 marks the “odd year” of the pink salmon two-year cycle, and has recently been a highly successful year. In comparison, very few pink salmon return to spawn during the even year cycle.

There have been increasing reports of people observed fishing in the Tsolum River. The TRRS reminds the public that the Tsolum River is closed year-round to all fishing (including catch and release fishing) and for all species. This closure is highlighted in the BC Freshwater Fishing Regulations. For more details about the closure see http://bit.ly/2Ar7Ygg

To file a report of illegal fishing in the Tsolum River, call 1-877-952-7277 or text #7277 to reach the Conservation Officer reporting system.

Why the fishing ban?

There used to be an open pit copper mine near Mt. Washington that operated from 1964 to 1967. After the mine was abandoned in 1967, a process known as “acid mine drainage” (AMD) began, as rain and snow melt percolated through the exposed copper ore. Water reacted with the exposed rock to create an acid leachate, which was laden with heavy metals including copper and cadmium. This acidic runoff flowed into Murex Creek and into the Tsolum River, where it killed most of the fish living in the river. The process continued, and eventually earned the Tsolum River the dubious honour of being the most endangered river in B.C. in 1999. In 2000, the Tsolum was declared “dead” by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The depletion of stocks that resulted from the AMD caused the river to become a “river of special conservation concern” and resulted in the fishing closure that continues to this day.

Through the combined effort of many people and organizations, including local Steelhead Society members, MLA’s, B.C. Ministry of Environment, Environment Canada, the B.C. Mining Association, Timberwest, the K’omoks First Nation and the TRRS, a successful solution to the leaching mine site was constructed in 2010. A $4.5 million membrane was placed over the mine site that sealed the surface, preventing further leaching of toxins into the Tsolum River upper reaches.

Although the source of toxic run-off has been fixed with the capping of the mine, the year round fishing closure in the Tsolum River is still in place. Since the river was remediated only 7 years ago, not enough time has passed to allow for popular angling species such as Cutthroat and Steelhead to fully recover. These longer living species need more time to build in size and population. Salmon runs are also recovering, and are being monitored year round by members of the TRRS.

The TRRS continues to focus on restoration of the river and riparian habitat. In addition to year-round monitoring of water quality and fish populations, the society has plans for several instream projects in the next couple of years including extensive gravel bar live staking (planting of willows to stabilize gravel bars), riparian planting, and measures to trap bed material to stop excessive volumes moving through the system.

Free trees for riverfront landowners

The TRRS has free two-year-old conifer trees available to riverfront landowners! Please contact us at tsolumriver@shaw.ca, or call 250-897-4670 for more information about the society; you can also learn more at www.tsolumriver.org.

If you would like to help the Tsolum River Restoration Society with its restoration efforts, consider becoming a donor, or a member /volunteer with the organization. The Conservation Centre (2356-A Rosewall Crescent, Courtenay) will host an open house on Saturday, Dec. 2 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. You can support the society by making a donation, or by purchasing its t-shirts or art cards for Christmas gifts. Warm drinks and Christmas treats will be served. Project Watershed and Comox Valley Land Trust will also have gift items for sale at the open house.

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