Officials with the province and Fisheries and Oceans Canada are optimistic they will be able to save thousands of salmon affected by the Big Bar landslide in the B.C. interior.
Environmental Unit Section Chief Al Magnan told reporters on Tuesday that crews are working as quickly as possible to create a natural pathway for the salmon to migrate up the Fraser River.
“There is no question the Big Bar landslide has been challenging due to its remote location, the Chilcotin flooding event and ongoing wet weather,” Magnan said.
“The magnitude of this incident has required an unprecedented level of response and cooperation from everyone involved. Together we are focusing on our primary objective which is a safe, natural passage for the salmon.”
Magnan says a monitoring station about two kilometers from the slide has detected the passage of about 40,000 fish since the rocks came down last month.
Officials have crews in place at the site of the slide, but there is no timeline yet on how quickly the rocks above the falls can be scaled, which is “dangerous and difficult” work.
“It is taking additional time to do the rock scaling safely and efficiently,” Magnan said.
WATCH: Rockslide causing concern for the future of salmon stock
One of the options, if a natural pathway is impossible, is to use a fish ladder. The crews are also looking at strategic bolder placements and where to put log debris.
The number of fish heading toward the slide are growing on a daily basis and the work being done is described as “complex.”
Last week, the B.C. government said helicopters would be used to fly thousands of salmon to their spawning grounds upstream on the Fraser River to avoid the slide.
The slide created a five-metre waterfall that’s preventing many fish from swimming upstream to spawn.
Provincial and federal officials have been working to find a solution ever since to help the sockeye and chinook salmon, many of which are already considered to be at risk.
The province previously said in a statement the operation is “one of many options that experts are implementing with the aim of helping the fish bypass the partial blockage.”
Millions of fish are expected to reach the site in the coming weeks, officials say. So far crews have transported 1,400 salmon by helicopter but few have been recorded passing the site on their own.
While there appears to be a bottleneck of fish building downstream, Magnan says that doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a mass die-off.
“From a migration point of view, it’s never linear. There are natural delays in migration and natural barriers that take time,” he said.
The overall water temperature in the Fraser “has been trending downward,” the province said, which is beneficial to the health of the fish.
The provincial and federal governments made a joint commitment recently to do everything possible to make sure the millions of salmon are able to reach their spawning grounds.
— With files from the Canadian Press and Sean Boynton