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ARMS starts petition for fish ladder

Sockeye were blocked from migrating after the Alouette Dam was built. - The News/files
Sockeye were blocked from migrating after the Alouette Dam was built.
— image credit: The News/files

The group that’s trying to heal one of nature’s long-festering wounds is hoping the power of the people can build support to restore the legendary sockeye to full health in Alouette Lake.

The Alouette River Management Society has started a petition at change.org and is seeking 10,000 names.

It will then present that to B.C. Hydro and the environment minister to build its case for a $3-million fish ladder that will connect the South Alouette River to Alouette Lake.

Access to the lake was blocked in 1925 when B.C. Hydro built the dam, as part of the Stave Falls Dam and Powerhouse system.

“All seven species of salmon (coho, chum, chinook, pink, sockeye, and steelhead) and cuthroat trout were in abundance before the dam was built, but became either detrimentally affected or extirpated due to low river flows coupled with the reservoir obstruction by the dam,” the society on the change.org website.

Since then, sockeye were blocked from migrating to the Pacific Ocean and became landlocked kokanee in the Alouette Lake reservoir.

Efforts in the last decade have been made to rebuild the run by letting kokanee over the dam in the spring so they can be complete their life cycle in the Pacific Ocean and become sockeye.

But access to the lake to complete their life cycle where they can spawn has been blocked for almost 90 years.

“We’re primarily just looking to raise awareness in the community,” said Greta Borick-Cunningham with the Alouette river society.

If a fish ladder or fishway is built, the society says not only will sockeye be able to reach the lake and be able to spawn, possibly growing the size of the run, other fish such as trout, chinook and coho also will benefit by re-establishing a connection of the river to the lake.

The society has been pushing for a fishway for several years. A feasibility report confirming the viability of the project was submitted to B.C. Hydro in April.

Without a fishway, ARMS and B.C. Correction inmate crews have to trap the returning sockeye at the hatchery or at the base of the dam and put them in a tank, and drive them to the lake for release.

Since the sockeye release program began in 2005, some years up 150 sockeye have returned to the South Alouette to spawn.

So far this year though, the Alouette River sockeye haven’t shown up. None.

“Basically, at this point, they’re a month late.”

Borick Cunningham says that could be for a few reasons.

It could because given the hot dry summer, there isn’t enough water to make easy swimming for the sockeye upstream.

Or, it could be they’ve been caught, given the high interest in the Fraser River sockeye fishery this year. Last year, only 10 sockeye showed up.

The society first proposed the fishway in 2010 after a study by Peter Ward and Associates estimated it would cost $2.8 million to build a fishway beside the spillway and get to the top of the 16-metre dam.

• Sign the petition at tinyurl.com/ARMSladder.

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