Managing the Impacts of Human Activities on Fish Habitat: The Governance, Practices, and Science

An Integrated Management Process for Regulating the Effects of Placer Mining on Fish and Fish Habitat in the Yukon

Steve Gotch


Abstract.—Modern placer mining continues to occur on many historically mined watercourses in the Yukon, while advances in gold recovery technology have enabled the industry to explore and operate in a number of newly developed areas. Placer gold deposits are typically found within alluvial floodplains, occurring adjacent to and in many cases beneath present-day streams and rivers. A large number of these watercourses in the Yukon provide habitat for a variety of resident (freshwater) and anadromous fish species which in turn, requires that careful planning and consideration for fisheries resources occurs when developing mining proposals and operations. Many activities and processes associated with placer mining have the potential to result in the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat or direct harm to fish. In the past, the operation of large mechanized dredges resulted in extensive localized disturbance of fish habitats which, without active restoration, required many years to recover. In the Yukon, Fisheries and Oceans Canada administers the habitat protection provisions of the federal Fisheries Act and is principally responsible for ensuring that placer mining activities are carried out in a manner which achieves effective conservation and protection of fish and fish habitat resources consistent with the principle of sustainable development. Between 2002 and 2007, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, in partnership with the Yukon Government the Council of Yukon First Nations and with support from the Yukon placer mining industry, developed a new integrated management process for regulating the effects of placer mining activities on fish and fish habitat resources. This new process is designed to integrate a number of key regulatory concepts and principles including cause-effect (risk-based) project assessment, industry-specific operational guidelines, watershed-wide fish habitat management planning, aquatic ecosystem monitoring, incorporation of Aboriginal traditional knowledge, proactive compliance and enforcement, and an adaptive management system through which adjustments can be made over time. Overall, this approach has been implemented with the objective of achieving conservation and protection of fish and fish habitat resources while facilitating a regulatory environment that enables the placer mining industry to continue operate in an environmental sustainable and economically viable manner into the future.