About the Jackfish Bay AOC
Located on the north shore of Lake Superior, approximately 250 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, the Jackfish Bay Area of Concern consists of a 14-kilometre stretch of Blackbird Creek between the pulp mill in Terrace Bay and Jackfish Bay, including Lake “A” and Moberly Lake (Lake “C”), as well as Jackfish Bay itself.
Jackfish Bay, once an untouched natural harbor, found its first settlers in the 1870s when three Scandinavian families established their homes along its tranquil shores. The construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway transformed Jackfish into a hub for coal unloading, providing the essential fuel needed to power the locomotives that traversed the expanding rail network. For several decades, the town thrived as a vital link in the railway system, supporting the transportation of goods and people across the vast Canadian landscape. Its prosperity continued until the mid-20th century when significant changes in transportation technology began to take their toll. The construction of the Trans Canada Highway and the widespread adoption of diesel engines in trains marked the beginning of Jackfish Bay’s decline.
These developments rendered the coal-shipping operations less relevant, and the town gradually lost its status as a critical railway hub. As a result, Jackfish Bay saw a steady exodus of residents, leading to the eventual transformation of what was once a bustling community into a ghost town, a poignant reminder of its bygone era.
In nearby Terrace Bay, a pulp and paper mill was established in the late 1940s. This was the beginning of Terrace Bay’s history as a company town (kind of dependent on the mill as their principal industry). The mill is the lifeblood of the region, yet has also seen financial struggles and has been passed from owner to owner throughout its life.
Since the 1940s, The predominant source of contamination for Jackfish Bay is the wastewater discharge from the Terrace Bay pulp mill into Blackbird Creek. The effluent flows from the mill site in Terrace Bay, Ontario, through Blackbird Creek into Jackfish Bay on Lake Superior.
In 1985, the International Joint Commission identified Jackfish Bay as an area of concern. Two years later, in 1987, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement also identified Jackfish Bay as an area of concern, one of 43 identified across the Great Lakes. At this time, 8 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement’s 14 Beneficial Use indicators of ecological quality were deemed as impaired, seven as “not impaired”, and four as “requiring further assessment.
The Jackfish Bay RAP is a partnership between the Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario, with support from the Jackfish Bay Community Advisory Committee (CAC). Many linkages and alliances have been developed as part of the Remedial Action Plan process between the RAP team and various other groups in the community, including private citizens, recreational groups, industry and municipalities.
- Conventional pollutants
- Heavy metals
- Toxic organics
- Contaminated sediments
Issues relating to the concerns:
- Health of fish and wildlife communities:
- Degraded aesthetics
- Degradation of sediments and aquatic communities which utilize the watercourse.
- Fish consumption advisories
- Impacted biota due to industrial point sources (pulp mill) and in-place pollutants (contaminated sediments)
Current Status & BUIs
In 2011, Jackfish Bay was re-designated as an Area of Concern in recovery
This decision was based on community and government consensus that all the scientifically feasible and economically reasonable remedial actions had been implemented, and additional time was required for the environment to recover naturally. Volunteers involved in the Remedial Action Plan for Jackfish Bay, municipal officials from the towns of Terrace Bay and Schreiber, federal and provincial representatives and area residents joined together to celebrate this announcement. A long-term monitoring plan is being implemented to track environmental recovery.
BUIs are currently identified as impaired.
Fish consumption, dynamics of fish populations, body burdens of fish, fish tumours and other deformities, dynamics of benthic populations, body burdens of benthic organisms, degradation of aesthetics, loss of fish and wildlife habitat.
BUIs are currently identified as not impaired.
Degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations, added cost to agriculture and industry, beach closings, restrictions on drinking water consumption or taste and odour problems, eutrophication or undesirable algae, restrictions on dredging activities, tainting of fish and wildlife flavour, wildlife consmption.
BUIs require further assessment.
Dynamics of wildlife populations, body burdens of wildlife, bird and animal deformities and reproductive problems.
Work Completed to Date
To assess changes over time to confirm that natural recovery is occurring, a Long-Term Monitoring Plan was developed with Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and partner organizations continuing to monitor the following environmental components:
- Contaminated sediment and water quality in Jackfish Bay, including inputs from Blackbird Creek;
- Benthic community health (i.e., bugs and worms living on the lake bottom) in Jackfish Bay;
- Contaminant levels in fish and overall fish health within Jackfish Bay; and
- Current aesthetics (i.e., water colour/clarity, water odour, presence of foam/debris) in Jackfish Bay.
The results of these monitoring studies indicate that water and sediment quality in Jackfish Bay has improved. Fish species, such as lake trout and lake whitefish, are abundant within Jackfish Bay, and a growing brook trout population has been observed. These are good indications that fish populations are recovering within the AOCiR. The quality of wastewater from the area pulp mill has improved in recent decades and continues to be monitored.
Over the past 30 years, there has been significant progress in restoring the water and environmental quality in the bay. This includes:
- Improvements to Terrace Bay Mill and changing to chlorine-free pulp production in the early 1990s, which reduced the release of harmful pollutants from entering the water
- Declines in toxic dioxin and furan concentrations in local fish
- The decline in fish liver tumour rates by over 7% in Jackfish Bay from 1985 to 2006, bringing this impairment into a healthy range
- Recovering fish populations, with Lake Trout and whitefish now abundant and a growing Brook Trout population, as well as healthy spawning and nursery habitat in the eastern portion of the bay
We will continue to work with local and provincial partners to support restoration actions and the environmental monitoring and assessment studies needed to confirm environmental quality objectives are met. Priorities are to:
- Continue implementing long-term monitoring for Jackfish Bay while it recovers naturally before the delisting criteria will be met.
- Continue assessing fish health, water and sediment quality
- Continue enforcing regulations to ensure the pulp mill complies with the federal and provincial regulatory requirements
Jackfish Bay has seen significant progress towards restoration since its designation as an AOC and will remain an AOC in recovery until monitoring indicates that the remaining beneficial uses have been restored. When monitoring assessments confirm ecosystem health has improved such that the delisting criteria are being met, Canada and Ontario will engage the local community and First Nations and Métis organizations on whether beneficial use impairments can be changed to “not impaired” status, and ultimately, for Jackfish Bay to be removed (or “delisted) from the list Areas of Concern.
Identified 8 beneficial uses which remained “impaired”, 8 were listed as “not impaired,” and 3 were “requiring further assessment.”
Identified 4 beneficial uses which remained “impaired,” 12 were listed as “not impaired,” and 3 “requiring further assessment.” The remaining impairments included the degradation of fish populations, dynamics of benthic populations, body burdens of benthic populations and the loss of fish habitat. Those requiring further assessment included fish consumption, body burdens of fish, and the degradation of aesthetics.