Conservationists eye the ‘Heart of the Fraser’ in bid to preserve critical fish stocks

The "Heart of the Fraser" seen from the air. Global News

Conservationists are trying to come up with a plan — and the money — to buy portions of several islands in the Fraser River they say are critical for sustaining some of Canada’s most important fish stocks.

“It’s one of the most productive stretches of river anywhere on the planet,” said Mark Angelo, rivers chair of the Outdoor Recreation Council.

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“It sustains almost 30 species of fish, our largest single spawning run of salmon, our finest sturgeon habitat.”

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The islands are part of an archipelago in the lower Fraser River between Mission and Hope that’s known as the “Heart of the Fraser,” where a maze of channels and sand bars provides prime spawning and feeding habitat for fish.

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But that habitat is threatened by development, and of the primary islands in the cluster, only three remain undyked and optimal for fish.

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Angelo said the challenge is that those islands are owned by investors and farmers who’d like to make them more economically productive — which is at odds with sustaining fish habitat.

Global News recently flew over some of the privately-owned islands, including Herrling Island, where the owners appear to be raising a corn crop.

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“Herrling Island, that is probably the most important piece of sturgeon — in our case it’s white sturgeon — spawning habitat in all British Columbia,” said Dr. Marvin Rosenau, a fisheries instructor at BCIT.

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Angelo said one solution is to try and buy the portions of the islands that have the most critical fish habitat, but he admits that’s a price tag that’s likely in the millions.

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Another hope he has is that new provisions in the federal Fisheries Act can protect some of the islands.

“We would love to see the Heart of the Fraser designated as an ecologically significant area under the Fisheries Act, that’s a new designation that could also be helpful from a protection point of view” said Angelo.

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