Conservationists and biologists are sounding the alarm over off-roading activity in a part of the Fraser River critical for spawning fish.
Gill Bar is a gravel bar near Chilliwack popular with ATV riders and anglers. It’s also part of an area known as the “heart of the Fraser” relied on by dozens of juvenile fish species.
“These gravel bars are critical habitat during high-flows, when the water comes up and covers these bars, the juvenile fish that are in the river that are in there now or coming up in the gravel when the eggs hatch, will stay in this area because it’s quiet water,” biologist and conservation scientist John Werring told Global News.
“It gives them an opportunity to rear. It’s a nursery area for the most part.”
According to Werring, 36 species of fish live in the Fraser River, including all five species of Pacific salmon, several types of trout and the protected white sturgeon.
Many, like the now-threatened Chinook salmon, rely on the channels in and around the bar to mature, he said.
Videos circulating on social media depicting large gatherings of ATVs and off-road trucks driving on the gravel bar and into the water have alarmed conservationists.
While the gravel bar may appear bare to the naked eye, beneath the rocks and the water it’s laden with eggs and juvenile fish, according to Martin Rosenau, an instructor with BCIT’s Fish, Wildlife and Recreation program.
“It looks innocuous, but there are chum redds right in all these channels that these vehicles are charging through,” he said.
“The little babies are down under the gravel, under the water, so they’re incubating right now and will be coming out in March and April. … They’re killing fish, almost certainly.”
Werring believes many off-roaders do not realize the damage they could be causing, and wants signage posted in the area at the very least.
He’d prefer to see the area closed to ATVs, or at least a ban on vehicles entering the water.
“What these trucks are doing is they’re just driving through them, ripping them up, causing massive plumes of mud and silt, which is harmful for fish,” he said.
“We don’t want to take away from the fun of the four-wheelers. I mean, these people put a lot of time and effort into buying these vehicles and they want to get out there and have fun in nature. But this is not the place to do it.”