Return of Atlantic salmon good news for Cobourg Creek

The return of Atlantic salmon to the icy waters of Cobourg Creek is welcomed news after decades of hard work and dedication by numerous individuals and groups. It represents a milestone in the rehabilitation of the species, but also places a salve on an old wound in the community.

Terry Quinney, fish and wildlife services manager for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, told Cobourg council recently that the work being done by the Lake Ontario Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program was proceeding extremely well. It appears Atlantic salmon, a breed nearly wiped out of provincial streams, creeks and rivers, may return to spawn following years of efforts to rejuvenate the population.

More than 120 years ago, early settlers, who dammed creeks, streams and rivers for mills, wiped out Atlantic salmon. Also farmers were denuding the landscape of trees and other vegetation to create farms.  Without the ability to get to the headwaters to spawn, the fish died off.

But, the story of Cobourg Creek has its own unique history. The mill was built in the early 19th century, serving  as a sawmill and as a gristmill. While it was active for decades as an industrial site, the pond eventually became a wildlife preserve. As Audrey Wilson, an award-winning educator and naturalist, recalled in a 2008 interview, she would go out from her backyard and paddle to the dam, seeing foxes, beavers, does and fawns.

But in 1989, an out-of-town developer pulled the logs from the dam and drained the pond. He planned to create land from the empty pond to build a condominium and golf course, destroying the sanctuary along with the spawning beds below the dam. The damage to the fishery was serious.

After years of fighting with council and local activists, the condos were never built, but the golf course remains as a reminder of the environmental disaster that took place. So, the news of the Atlantic salmon’s return is a signal of the creek’s recovery from this horrific period.

Cobourg Creek’s reputation as a fishery is well known. In fact, the Ministry of Natural Resources identified it as a place to release rainbow trout in 1978, demonstrating its potential for introducing species.

In October 2001, the first Atlantic salmon were introduced to the creek with the help of CDCI East biology students. These mature fish were followed with the introduction of 60,000 salmon fry released in May 2006. This time, it was with the help of Sir Sandford Fleming College students.

Then, along came the Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program two years later and 1,000 salmon fry are given a new home in the creek with the help of CDCI East and West students, the federation of anglers and hunters, the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority and volunteers.

However, the town has a terrible history polluting the lower end of the stream. There are numerous incidents of leaked material from the sewage treatment facility below the railway tracks on King Street West. The town has faced charges and convicted on several occasions, paying fines, as well.

Hopefully, this news will mean the town will take better care of the lower section of the creek.

Anglers of all ages enjoy sport fishing. Cobourg Creek represents a proud moment for anglers and naturalists, who have watched as less caring individuals and institutions have failed to respect the local natural resources. Through the diligence, hard work and persistence of these people and with the help of provincial agencies and organizations, Cobourg Creek is a success story the entire county can be proud to share.