Crews working to help migrating salmon that have been trapped by a major rockslide on B.C.’s Fraser River say a partial natural passage through the blockage has been achieved.
The federal-provincial-First Nations unified command responding to the slide said Monday that fish-counting data has found that some 6,700 salmon have passed northwards through the slide on their own.
However, it added that a “tremendous” amount of work needs to be done before all fish trying to make their way upstream will be able to do so.
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“Successful passage is highly dependent on water levels, and lower flows improve our ability to make additional progress,” said the Unified Command Incident Management Team in a media release.
“First Nations’ technical knowledge in fish capture — from beach seining crews to a second fish wheel — underpins the operation.”
The slide was first discovered near Big Bar in late June, and created a nearly five-metre high waterfall that most salmon have been unable to pass on their own.
The unified command said establishing a permanent natural passage through the blockage is its main priority, and crews remain on site moving large rocks and blasting with the aim of creating a long-term, stable fish passage.
In the meantime, crews continue to airlift fish over the blockage using oxygenated tanks carried by helicopters, a painstaking and expensive process that has so far managed to transport nearly 40,000 salmon.
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The provincial and federal governments have made a joint commitment to do everything possible to ensure the millions of salmon trying to reach their upriver spawning grounds are successful.
The unified command says the slide could have devastating impacts on the province’s ecological and economic well-being, with many wildlife species reliant on salmon for their survival, along with the province’s First Nations who rely on the fish for food and ceremonial purposes.
Concern for the state of the species grew further late last week when the DFO warned that the expected sockeye salmon return this year would be in the range of just 600,000, down from an initial estimate of nearly five million.
A dozen of 13 Fraser River chinook salmon populations have also been recommended for protection under the Species at Risk Act.
— With files from the Canadian Press