Fisheries and Oceans Canada says all options are on the table to help salmon migrate past a “significant” rock slide in the Fraser River in central B.C.
The slide came down Tuesday, the DFO confirmed, creating a waterfall and harsh rapids that have made reaching a key spawning location upsteam close to impossible for the chinook salmon that call the river home.
The blockage will also likely impact the dozens of local First Nations that rely on the salmon for food.
WATCH: (Aired June 26) Rockslide in Fraser River raises salmon concerns
On Friday, Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the department is treating the slide and its impact on the salmon as the serious event that it is, and is working with those First Nations and experts to find a solution.
But he admitted it’s still too early to say for sure whether getting all the salmon upstream is possible.
“We are very concerned about this, and we have to figure out how to address it in the short term,” Wilkinson said. “We are throwing all our resources on this. This is an urgent, urgent issue.”
An acoustic monitor has been installed to track how many salmon might make it through on their own, which could be a small fraction of the number travelling up the river.
The slide happened in a remote section of the Fraser near the Big Bar Ferry. The closest community is Clinton, which sits more than 40 kilometres east.
Officials and technical teams have had difficulty accessing the site, where there are no roads or cell phone service.
WATCH: (Aired May 5) Fishing guides concerned about chinook salmon fishery closure
That will also make it tough to capture and relocate the salmon, one of many options Wilkinson said the DFO is considering.
“It can be done, but it’s a lot trickier in this case,” he said. “You can’t get access to this area, so you’d be trying to catch them several kilometers downstream.
“Would you be able to capture all the fish? Almost certainly not. But could you capture enough that you would be able to take some above so that you would have at least some spawning? Probably so.”
Wilkinson said it’s too early to say what course of action the department will take, saying a combination of actions could also be taken to speed the process along.
But time is running out, with the minister admitting some of the salmon have already reached the point where the slide came down.
Aaron Hill, executive director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, said the slide may have blocked access to the majority of the Fraser Valley river system, where more than 50 per cent of the chinook salmon in the area spawn each year.
“People depend on this salmon from the Salish Sea through to Metro Vancouver and all the way up to the northern interior and out east to the Rocky Mountains,” Hill said. “So this is concerning.”
WATCH: (Aired Aug. 22, 2016) Fraser River sockeye run predicted to be lowest in 120 years
Many of the salmon populations in the Fraser Valley system are also endangered, Hill said, further threatening their survival.
But he expressed optimism that the government and local First Nations will find a solution.
“It is going to be a very difficult job, and it has to happen incredibly fast, because we have the majority of the migration season ahead of us,” he said.
“This is coming on top of other threats salmon are facing, including drought and virus loading from salmon farms, so we need to get on top of it as soon as possible.”
—With files from Jordan Armstrong and Linda Aylesworth