‘All options open’: Ministers tour Fraser River rockslide that could impact migrating salmon

Rapids form at the site of a significant rock slide in the Fraser River near Big Bar Creek, B.C. on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. Simon Hergott

Provincial and federal officials say they’re keeping all options on the table when it comes to helping migrating salmon threatened by a rockslide in the Fraser Canyon.

Federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and provincial Minister of Forests Lands and Natural Resources Doug Donaldson toured the slide site by helicopter Tuesday, and said they’re working closely together and with First Nations on how best to address the issue.

The slide, which was discovered just west of Clinton on June 25 but may have occurred several months ago, has left tonnes of rock in the river, creating an obstruction that few salmon have been able to slip past.

“We know that there are some getting through but it’s a relatively small number, and it is a very large impediment. As you know, the Fraser is the most important salmon-bearing river in the province,” Wilkinson told Global News.

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“This is the most important issue for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in British Columbia right now, and it is something on which we and the B.C. government and First Nations are collaborating.”

Wilkinson said he was particularly concerned because the slide is impacting Chinook salmon, which are endangered, along with sockeye. Chinook are the primary food source for the region’s critically endangered southern resident orca population.

WATCH: Rockslide causing concern for the future of salmon stock

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Rockslide causing concern for the future of salmon stock

Donaldson said officials are looking at several approaches to assisting the fish, but won’t be able to make a final decision until water levels in the river recede, which he said was forecast to happen in the coming days.

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Once that happens, he said, officials are hoping fish will be able to naturally swim past the obstacle, but are prepared to look at other options if that doesn’t work.

“Placing rock in the river can help with that, with a natural passage, [it’s] less intrusive, but we also have other options on the place in terms of transporting fish past the barrier and we’ve got to keep all those options open.”

Wilkinson said officials were also looking at ways to physically transport fish past the barrier, either by truck or by helicopter, but admitted the proposals could be expensive or involve engineering challenges such as building a new road.

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