Four and half years after the 2014 Mount Polley Mine breach, rainbow trout were released by the thousands into Polley Lake as part of a hatchery project the mine conducted in the summer of 2018.
During a public meeting held in Williams Lake on Dec. 14, the mine’s environmental co-ordinator Colleen Hughes said they built a hatchery at the mine.
“We collected a required number fish, measured them, weighed them, took the eggs and milt, and allowed the fish to recover before putting them back in Hazeltine Creek,” she said.
An estimated 17,000 eggs went into trays in the hatchery, water was pumped up from Polley Lake, and they raised hatchlings, feeding them by hand in the beginning and eventually by autofeeders.
“On Sept. 26, we released 11,300 rainbow trout into the Polley Lake,” Hughes said. “We know that number because we had to clip every single one of their fins.”
A group of students from Lake City Secondary Columneetza Campus Greenologists Environmental Club from Williams Lake came out to help with the release and learn from the biologist that was there.
Hughes said prior to the August 2014 tailings impoundment breach, Hazeltine Creek had historically been the main spawning channel for rainbow trout in Polley Lake.
After the breach, in the spring of 2015, a fish weir was put in to stop the water from leaving Polley Lake and going down Hazeltine Creek to Quesnel Lake.
“We put the weir there so we could construct that creek channel. We couldn’t do all the rocked-in channel work and manage flows coming in from Polley Lake. We also had to keep the fish from leaving Polley Lake so we put in a series of three fish fences.”
A habitat remediation working group was formed in 2015, made up of members from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Economic Development Fisheries and Water Stewardship, First Nations and their consultants and Mount Polley Mining Corp. and its consultants.
“In 2015 the remediation group decided what needed to happen in that creek in order for it to be good fish habitat,” Hughes said. “To the best of our ability, we wanted to replace what was there, of course knowing that it would be different.”
Hazeltine Creek was divided into reaches and in 2016, each one was completed and made into fish habitat.
Reach two was completed in 2017 and in 2018 work began work in reach three but it was not finished.
While the fish were kept out of the creek, the food source for the fish continued to grow and each spring the rainbow trout would show up at the fish fences from Polley Lake trying to get into Hazeltine Creek to spawn.