Environmentalists slam response to Fraser River rock slide

Friday, August 16, 2019
CTV News Vancouver

The future of one of British Columbia’s most important salmon spawning cycles is very much in doubt.

Environmentalists are slamming the federal government's response to a rockslide that is blocking the Fraser River near Lillooet at the worst possible time.

"This has the potential to be the worst environmental disaster in British Columbia's history,” said Peter McCartney, a spokesperson for the Wilderness Committee.

McCartney says the response to the slide has been too slow and now, it's too late.

"At this point it's triage,” said McCartney.

There are an estimated 90,000 salmon in the area right now, but the Fraser sockeye run is expected in the next week or two.

"That’s about two million salmon,” McCartney said. “The fact that they're not prepared for that is very concerning."

The slide was reported in June, but is believed to have happened in November. After nearly a month of planning, officials began transporting salmon upstream by helicopter.

"Currently we have moved 14,000 fish,” said Corino Salomi, the Environmental Unit Lead on the disaster response.

That’s just 15 per cent of the current population in the area. It's believed only half of those fish continued to migration.

"There's no way you're going to be able to move then entire Fraser River Sockeye Salmon Run up via helicopter,” said McCartney.

The remote location, steep terrain and unpredictable rock face have made finding a more permanent solution a challenge.

"One of our main priorities for the rockslide response is to establish natural fish passage along the West side of the rockslide,” explained Salomi.

Unfortunately, their efforts have been fruitless so far.

"We have tagged approximately 200 fish below the slide. We have not seen natural passage of those fish through the slide site yet,” Salomi said in a tele-conference.

An additional boat and helicopter are being brought in Friday. The local First Nation has already declared a state of emergency.

Environmentalists are asking the government do the same.

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