Workers are seen on the cliff at the site of a massive rock slide on the Fraser River near Big Bar, west of Clinton, B.C., on Wednesday July 24, 2019. Officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans say early arriving runs of Stuart and Chinook salmon were nearly wiped out after reaching the massive landslide along British Columbia’s Fraser River last year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Workers are seen on the cliff at the site of a massive rock slide on the Fraser River near Big Bar, west of Clinton, B.C., on Wednesday July 24, 2019. Officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans say early arriving runs of Stuart and Chinook salmon were nearly wiped out after reaching the massive landslide along British Columbia’s Fraser River last year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

‘Almost complete loss’ of early salmon runs at Fraser River slide last year: DFO

Fisheries and Oceans is also exploring how hatcheries could be used to restore runs affected by the landslide

Early runs of Stuart sockeye and chinook salmon were devastated last year because they couldn’t make it past a massive landslide on British Columbia’s Fraser River, government officials said Tuesday.

The officials with Fisheries and Oceans Canada told a Commons committee that 99 per cent of early Stuart and 89 per cent of early chinook salmon were lost.

Rebecca Reid, the department’s regional director for the Pacific region, said salmon survival improved later in the summer when work started to transport fish past the slide, helping them reach their spawning grounds.

Mortality during the salmon’s long journey inland is already high and it’s hard to say what exactly causes their deaths, Eric Taylor, a zoology professor and fish expert at the University of British Columbia, said in an interview.

But he said it’s clear that the landslide near Big Bar is the culprit behind last year’s elevated mortality rate.

It’s believed the massive landslide north of Lillooet occurred in late October or early November 2018, but it wasn’t discovered until last June after fish had already begun arriving.

Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan told the committee the volume of the slide was equivalent to a building 33 storeys high by 17 storeys wide.

About 60,000 fish were helped over the slide last year, she said, while 220,000 made it past on their own once water volume dropped.

Jordan said so far just two chinook have been observed arriving this year.

READ MORE: High tech fish transport system set up to ‘whoosh’ salmon past Big Bar landslide

Plans are in place to significantly increase the number of fish that survive and reach spawning grounds this year including using a pneumatic fish pump — a so-called salmon cannon — and building a series of boulders to create a fish ladder.

“The ultimate goal would be to clear it enough so that it’s a natural passageway for the fish, so that it’s not something that we have to continually monitor or maintain,” Jordan said.

“But in the meantime, we are making sure that there are measures in place to get the fish through.”

Jordan said another small slide of about two cubic metres happened last month while no workers were present, an indication of the dangerous terrain at the remote site.

The committee heard that Fisheries and Oceans is also exploring how hatcheries could be used to restore runs affected by the landslide. That means some salmon would be captured and their offspring reared before being reintroduced into the wild.

“We know that there’s going to be a poor state for many of the upper Fraser River salmon, so we’re looking at emergency conservation enhancement measures, including the hatchery component,” said Jordan.

A holding facility went into operation last week, she said, although she acknowledged concerns that large-scale use of hatcheries could affect the genetic diversity of wild salmon stocks.

New Democrat MP Gord Johns, who represents Courtenay-Alberni on Vancouver Island, told the committee that B.C. needs a bigger financial commitment from Ottawa through a joint salmon restoration and innovation fund.

The fund is worth up to $142.85 million over five years until the end of March 2024, and Reid said the total value of applications under the program has so far been $340 million.

“Clearly, this program isn’t adequate to service the needs of coastal people,” said Johns.

“One thing that there is consensus on, with Indigenous communities, local governments, recreation fishers, commercial, is that we need more money (for) restoration and habitat protection.”

READ MORE: Plans for ‘fish cannon’ to move salmon across the Big Bar landslide site on the Fraser River

Johns said there are thousands of volunteers who want to help, but they need resources. Mobilizing such a workforce could be part of B.C.’s COVID-19 pandemic recovery plans while helping to save an iconic coastal species, he added.

The Big Bar landslide is the latest threat to the survival of wild salmon, said Taylor, along with climate change, lost habitat and the poor monitoring of bycatch by different fisheries.

“Big Bar is just one of the most recent incidents that are harming Pacific salmon that are already in a vulnerable position.”

The landslide show the importance of implementing other measures to restore wild salmon runs to ensure their long-term survival, said Taylor.

“The failure to list Pacific salmon under the Species at Risk Act now has even more seriousness because we can’t control these things like rock slides.”

— By Brenna Owen in Vancouver.

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Fraser RiverSalmon

Just Posted

Maple Ridge’s Johanne Bolduc, a self-proclaimed bird lover, shared a picture of a Kingfisher and its prey that she spotted Tuesday along the dikes in Pitt Meadows – along the North Alouette River. She labelling her photo “Great Catch.” It was a great catch for the bird and Bolduc. Kingfishers are known to be very timid of people, so getting a picture of the majestic bird, she said, tends to be difficult and uncommon. Send us your photo showing how you view this community, email to: editor@mapleridgenews.com. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Fine-feathered friend motivates Maple Ridge bird lover to learn more

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon

Platinum Enterprises is building a 330-unit apartment complex on Brown Avenue in Maple Ridge. (Special to The News)
Council okays huge apartment complex in downtown Maple Ridge

330 units in three five-story condo buildings on Brown Avenue

Maple Ridge Coun. Ahmed Yousef says observing Ramadan during a pandemic was very different. (News files)
Maple Ridge city councillor celebrates Eid al Fitr after 30 days of fasting

Coun. Ahmed Yousef said this year’s Ramadan was lonely without close community contact

Tori Peterson has been named a first team all-star in the NCAA Ohio Valley Conference. (Facebook/Eastern Kentucky University)
Pitt Meadows pitcher an all conference player in the NCAA

Tori Peterson has been outstanding this season for Eastern Kentucky University

Lorna Seip touches up the mural on the wall at MRSS, working with students from the Rainbow Club. (Neil Corbett/The News)
Rainbow club puts message of inclusion at MRSS main entrance

Maple Ridge secondary grad says SOGI symbols are powerful

Prince Rupert was one of the first B.C. communities targeted for mass vaccination after a steep rise in infections. Grey area marks community-wide vaccine distribution. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. tracks big drop in COVID-19 infections after vaccination

Prince Rupert, Indigenous communities show improvement

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a local couple walking on a remote forest road in Naramata on May 10. (Submitted)
Kamloops brothers identified as pair found dead near Penticton

The bodies of Carlo and Erick Fryer were discovered by a local couple walking

Municipal governments around B.C. have emergency authority to conduct meetings online, use mail voting and spend reserve funds on operation expenses. (Penticton Western News)
Online council meetings, mail-in voting option to be extended in B.C.

Proposed law makes municipal COVID-19 exceptions permanent

A nurse prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)
British Columbians aged 20+ can book for vaccine Saturday, those 18+ on Sunday

‘We are also actively working to to incorporate the ages 12 to 17 into our immunization program’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine. (AP/Eranga Jayawardena)
2nd person in B.C. diagnosed with rare blood clotting after AstraZeneca vaccine

The man, in his 40s, is currently receiving care at a hospital in the Fraser Health region

Brian Peach rescues ducklings from a storm drain in Smithers May 12. (Lauren L’Orsa video screen shot)
VIDEO: Smithers neighbours rescue ducklings from storm drain

Momma and babies made it safely back to the creek that runs behind Turner Way

Signage for ICBC, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, is shown in Victoria, B.C., on February 6, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
$150 refunds issued to eligible customers following ICBC’s switch to ‘enhanced care’

Savings amassed from the insurance policy change will lead to one-time rebates for close to 4 million customers

Police investigate a fatal 2011 shooting in a strip mall across from Central City Shopping Centre, which was deemed a gang hit. The Mayor’s Gang Task Force zeroed in on ways to reduce gang involvement and activity. (File photo)
COVID-19 could be a cause in public nature of B.C. gang violence: expert

Martin Bouchard says the pandemic has changed people’s routines and they aren’t getting out of their homes often, which could play a role in the brazen nature of shootings

Most Read