The members of the Remedial Action Plan Team wish to offer an update on recent monitoring of the fish and benthic community in Peninsula Harbour. Based on the data, there is sufficient evidence to propose redesignation of three beneficial use impairments to”not impaired”. More information about each of these impairments (Loss of Fish Habitat, Degradation of Fish Populations and Degradation of Benthos) and the proposed case for redesignation can be found below.
There is also data which shows encouraging results with declining levels of total PCBs and mercury in select fish species over time. However; despite the improvement, “Restrictions on Fish Consumption” beneficial use impairment remains “Impaired”, because contaminant concentrations continue to drive fish consumptions in the AOC. A more complete assessment using a broader range of AOC species is therefore required. Fish consumers are advised to consult the Ontario Guide to Eating Fish which recommends a maximum number of meals per month for various wild-caught fish across Ontario.
Join us on Tuesday, January 26, 2021, from 10:00 AM to noon for a status update on the capping project, and review of beneficial use impairments (BUIs) in Peninsula Harbour. Presentations will cover the evidence for redesignating several of these impairments as “not impaired”. There are two ways to attend the meeting:
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- Presentation – AOC Overview
- Presentation – Thin-Layer Cap Long-Term Monitoring
- Presentation – Degradation of Fish and Wildlife Populations
- Presentation – Loss of Fish and Wildlife Habitat
- Presentation – Degradation of Benthos
- Presentation – Restrictions on Fish Consumption
Documents and Reports
- PENINSULA HARBOUR – STATUS REPORT (2020)
- Jellicoe Cove Thin-Layer Cap Long-Term Monitoring Assessment (2017)
- Introductory Video on the Sediment Remediation (VIDEO)
- Stage 2 Report (2012)
- Stage 1 Report (1991)
Provide Us With Your Feedback (Link to Survey)
LOSS OF FISH HABITAT: NOT IMPAIRED (Proposed change)
At the time of the Stage 2 RAP report (2012), water quality had greatly improved and levels of organic matter (i.e., logs and woody debris) reduced in the harbour due to: log booming activities ending in the 1980s; upgrade to the municipal wastewater treatment plant to secondary treatment in 1982; and upgrades to the pulp mill and its wastewater treatment to secondary treatment in 1995, before the mill was closed in 2009 and subsequently decommissioned. Additionally, in 2012 a thin-layer cap was installed (video overview) on top of the most contaminated sediment in the AOC, which placed 15-20 cm of clean sand over an area in Jellicoe Cove to reduce exposure of organisms to contaminants and enhance natural recovery. The cap covers about ¼ of Jellicoe Cove, or about 2.5% of Peninsula Harbour.
Earlier studies indicated historical spawning habitat west of Beatty Cove and along the north shore of Peninsula Harbour was in good condition; however, surveys along the western shoreline of Beatty Cove were needed. Due to this lack of data, the status of fish habitat was deemed to “Require Further Assessment” in the Stage 2 RAP report. A subsequent study in 2012 found that fish habitat in Beatty Cove is relatively unimpaired except for minor organic enrichment from the remaining wood debris, which is expected to dissipate year-to-year and thereby improve conditions in the cove. And in February 2020, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) prepared an assessment report detailing an analysis of various studies to fully evaluate the status of fish habitat in the AOC. The assessment report provides evidence in support of achieving the delisting/evaluation criteria for the Loss of Fish and Wildlife Habitat BUI (fish component)
Based on the analysis conducted by MNRF, it is evident that the criteria have been met. The aquatic habitat in the AOC is capable of supporting a diverse and healthy fish community, benthic communities (and aquatic plants) are recovering post sediment remediation and fish communities are already healthy, and there are monitoring and reporting systems in place to track recovery. It is therefore recommended that the Loss of Fish Habitat be redesignated to “Not Impaired” status (the wildlife component has never been impaired). MNRF will continue to monitor the fish community as part of an ongoing program, and MECP will continue its long-term monitoring plan every 5 years until 2032, ensuring that any changes to environmental conditions will be identified and met with appropriate action.
DEGRADATION OF FISH POP.: NOT IMPAIRED
Fish populations was designated impaired in the Stage 1 RAP report (1991) because of a decline in Lake Trout populations due to habitat destruction from industrial effluent and log booming, the introduction of sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus), and over-exploitation through commercial fishing. Log booming (a practice which ended in the 1980s) resulted in wood debris contamination in Jellicoe and Beatty Coves that reduced the traditional (prior to 1955) Lake Trout spawning habitat.
In the Stage 2 RAP report (2012), this beneficial use was changed from impaired to requiring further assessment (RFA). This applies to the fish component only as wildlife populations were never deemed impaired for the Peninsula Harbour AOC.
Following process changes and upgrades to mill effluent treatment, and the passing of time since log booming ended, the ecosystem began to recover. In 2010, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) initiated a Lake Superior Fish Community Index Netting (FCIN) Program to obtain a minimum of 5 years of data for Lake Superior AOCs. The program establishes a fishery independent trend over time of the abundance and diversity of the fish community in these AOCs.
Results from the Peninsula Harbour AOC index netting from 2010-2018 were tracked for changes over time and compared to results from areas within and adjacent to the AOC to evaluate the status of this beneficial use. MNRF’s recent analysis of these results under the FCIN program shows a healthy, self-sustaining population of primarily native fish species (MNRF, 2019). Based on this evidence, results collected under the FCIN from 2010-2018 indicate that the criteria have been met, and therefore it is recommended that the Degradation of Fish Populations BUI be redesignated to a “Not Impaired” status. The MNRF will continue to monitor the fish community as part of an ongoing assessment program, emphasizing the importance of fishery independent trend-through-time data to guide management decisions.
DEGRADATION OF BENTHOS: NOT IMPAIRED (Proposed change)
Peninsula Harbour was identified as an Area of Concern (AOC) in the late 1980s, and in 1991, the Stage 1 Remedial Action Plan (RAP) report documented the degraded environmental conditions at the time. In the report, contaminated sediment was noted to be a significant environmental issue, particularly within Jellicoe Cove, with elevated concentrations of mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). As a result, Degradation of Benthos was designated ‘Impaired’ in the 1991 Stage 1 RAP report. The status remained the same in the 2012 Stage 2 RAP report. Benthos are aquatic macroinvertebrates such as insects and worms that live at the bottom of the lake for all or part of their lifecycle. Benthos live in close proximity to sediment, and therefore could become exposed to contaminants. To remediate contaminated sediment in the AOC, in 2012 a thin-layer cap was installed placing 15-20 cm of clean sand on top of the most contaminated sediment in Jellicoe Cove. The cap covers about ¼ of Jellicoe Cove, or about 2.5% of Peninsula Harbour. The effort was to reduce the concentrations of mercury and PCBs, and thereby create conditions to allow natural recovery to take place. Following the remediation project, studies by federal and provincial scientists indicate reduced contaminant concentrations within the AOC, enabling improved or improving conditions for benthic communities.
In addition to the delisting criteria and its numerical targets to assess the Degradation of Benthos beneficial use impairment for the entire AOC, there will be long-term monitoring of the thin-layer cap at Jellicoe Cove. Studies from the first round, in 2017, show the cap is stable and effective in reducing total mercury in surficial sediment well below the remedial target of 3.0 mg/kg. Also, concentrations of methylmercury and PCBs on surficial sediment of the cap in 2017 were reduced compared to levels measured for methylmercury in 2009 and 2011, and for PCBs in 2011.
Overall, benthic populations within the AOC have long been found to be similar to Great Lakes reference sites. The one area where this has not been the case (Jellicoe Cove) was subject to the thin layer cap remediation project in 2012 (the cap covers about ¼ of Jellicoe Cove, or about 2.5% of Peninsula Harbour), and there is evidence of benthic re-colonization and the emergence of submerged aquatic vegetation on top of the cap. In addition, concentrations of PCBs, mercury, and methylmercury have declined in the AOC upon the completion of the thin-layer cap. The delisting criteria is met for the PCBs target (i.e., AOC average concentrations are now 0.051 mg/kg for total PCBs, which is “less than” 0.060 mg/kg); and it is close to the methylmercury target (concentrations are now 0.002 mg/kg, but not “less than” 0.002 mg/kg), which is a very conservative target in the first place. Therefore, it is recommended that the Degradation of Benthos BUI be redesignated to ‘Not Impaired’ status. The effectiveness of the cap will continue to be monitored by MECP under a 20-year long-term monitoring plan concluding in 2032.