Salmon-rich York River contaminated by Gaspé dump
High levels of zinc, fecal coliform, nitrogen, phosphorus and solid waste found in river
Fishing enthusiasts are outraged after learning one of the best salmon-fishing rivers in North America is being contaminated by a municipal dump in Gaspé, Que.
Documents obtained by CBC Radio-Canada through an access to information request show that the York River, which flows from the Chic-Choc mountains to the Gaspé Bay, contains contaminants far exceeding government norms.
Since 2007, zinc, fecal coliform, nitrogen, phosphorus and solid waste have been found in the York River at two or three times the allowable limit.
The source is the Gaspé municipal landfill.
“It’s unacceptable. That’s the first word that comes to mind,” said fishing guide Michel Beaudin.
“We should not throw garbage juice in a world-renowned salmon river. It’s shameful. People need to put a system in place that, if there is refuse, that it’s refuse that corresponds to the norms."
Untreated waste dumped into river
The worst contamination incident came in December 2010, when heavy rains raised water levels in the filtration plant’s tanks to dangerously high levels. The city chose to dump untreated leachate — liquid that passes through waste — directly into the river in order to keep the filtration plant from overflowing.
The City of Gaspé said it’s working to fix the problem.
“We have even hired a new consultant this year who will help us with a variety of measures to ensure that the problem is fixed as soon as possible,” said the city’s director-general, Sébastien Fournier.
However, for a species of fish that is already endangered, any more waiting could be disastrous.
The Atlantic salmon in the York River have been dying by the hundreds since 2011, when they began contracting a fungus called saprolegniasis. The fungus is usually described as a cotton-like appearance on the fish's body.
Charles Cusson, director of Quebec programs for the Atlantic Salmon Federation, suspects there is a link between the water contamination and the proliferation of the fungus.
“The river’s current could have unleashed the illness among the salmon,” he said.