Feds taking heat for Fraser River rockslide cleanup

Thursday, July 04, 2019
CTV News

A local environmental group is calling out the federal government for its response to a major rock slide in B.C.'s Interior.

The Wilderness Committee says the debris from the slide is blocking a major salmon migration route, and is calling on Fisheries and Oceans Canada to act faster.

"We'd never let a highway be blocked for two weeks and this is a highway for salmon," said Peter McCartney, a spokesperson for the non-profit group.

McCartney says a major slab of rock fell off the side of the Fraser Canyon and into the Fraser River creating a five metre high waterfall.

The slide struck on June 21 near Big Bar, located some 40 kilometres northwest of Clinton.

The debris is making it extremely difficult for fish to reach their spawning ground.

"Some of the larger chinook salmon are getting past," said Jonathan Wilkinson, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.

An acoustic listening device placed above the slide has recorded about 700 hundred fish—mostly chinook and sockeye.

"Monitoring is not an acceptable level of response to this," argued McCartney.

Wilkinson says the DFO doesn’t want to cause another slide inadvertently during the cleanup process.

"We are looking at a whole range of options. Those would be all the way from trying to actually extract the rock in some way or take it down in pieces, or to catch and truck fish up above."

More than 50 First Nations, up-river, rely on the fish for food and McCartney says the government needs to act faster.

"I understand some First Nations have called for a state of emergency," he said. "I think the government needs to be taking its cues from the people who know that river best."

Impacted bands are being included in technical briefings; the next one will take place Friday.

McCartney says he's concerned the help may not come soon enough, with the peak of spawning season expected in a few weeks.

"We need to treat this like the disaster that it is and they need to act fast."

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