Title

Black Bay & Black Sturgeon River native fisheries rehabilitation: Recommendations and rationale

Publication Date

2010

Keywords

Fisheries, native, rehabilitation, river, sturgeon, population, walleye, LAKE, recreational fishery, factors, habitat, predation, juvenile, rainbow smelt, smelt, dams, upstream, migration, spawning, spawning habitat, structure, SEA, sea lamprey, lamprey, control, Great Lakes, Lakes, oceans, ocean, Fish, species, watershed, production, review, management, development, status, downstream, trap, fishway, environmental assessment, monitoring

Publication place

Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

Publisher

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources

Abstract

Black Bay was once home to the largest population of walleye in Lake Superior, supporting sizeable commercial and recreational fisheries. The walleye population collapsed in 1968, due to a combination of factors, including overfishing, habitat loss, predation of juvenile walleye by rainbow smelt, and the construction of several dams on the Black Sturgeon River to facilitate log drives. The Camp 43 dam, 17 km upstream from the mouth of the river, was built in 1959, blacks migration to approximately 80% of the spawning habitat formerly available. It is the only structure remaining on the main stem of the Black Sturgeon River. The dam is considered an essential component for the binational sea lamprey control program mandated by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and carried out by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) on the Black Sturgeon River. Removing the dam would allow access by walleye and other native fish species to the spawning habitat in the upper reaches of the Black Sturgeon watershed, but would also increase sea lamprey production in the river. In May 2008, a workshop was held in Thunder Bay to develop a decision-making framework for native species rehabilitation in Black Bay and the Black Sturgeon River, with particular emphasis on the future of the Camp 43 dam. One of the recommendations from this workshop was that a group of non-government stakeholders should be struck to review and evaluate a suite of options for the dam, and to present recommendations to the Ministry of Natural Resources. The Minister of Natural Resources endorsed the recommendations of the workshop in July 2008, and indicated that, due to importance of this issue to fisheries management in Lake Superior, the Fisheries Management Zone 9 (FMZ 9) Advisory Council was designated to fill the role of the stakeholder committee. The FMZ 9 Advisory Council was struck in April 2009 and met twelve times over fifteen months to deliberate the issue. Despite the complexity of the subject, the Council focussed on two primary goals throughout their deliberations: (1) Native species rehabilitation in Black Bay and the Black Sturgeon River, and (2) Effective and cost-efficient sea lamprey control in the Black Sturgeon watershed. The Council reviewed a suite of five options, plus two sub-options which included considerations for hydro development. They have made the following recommendations: (1) The status quo should be rejected; (2) The option to decommission the Camp 43 dam and replace it with a new barrier downstream of Shillabeer Creek should be rejected; (3) The option to decommission the Camp 43 dam without replacement should be rejected; (4) The status quo option with hydro development at Camp 43 should be rejected; (5) The trap and sort fishway option with hydro development at Camp 43 should be rejected; (6) All potential hydro sites on the Black Sturgeon River should be permanently removed from the MNR Waterpower Atlas; (7) Both the option to decommission the Camp 43 dam and replace it with a new barrier at Camp 1, as well as the option to modify the Camp 43 dam with a trap and sort fishway, should be put forward for public consultation under a formal Environmental Assessment process, with Camp 1 presented as the preferred option, and trap and sort presented as an alternate option. This recommendation comes with a set of caveats concerning monitoring and contingency planning for sea lamprey.

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