B.C. scientist, fishing group concerned about gravel removal from salmon-spawning river

Click to play video: 'Government plans to dredge gravel from Vedder River called ‘devastating’ for returning salmon'
Government plans to dredge gravel from Vedder River called ‘devastating’ for returning salmon
Environmentalists are calling on the B.C. government to delay its plans to dredge gravel from the Vedder River, saying it will be devastating for this year's Pink salmon spawning. Paul Johnson reports – Jun 8, 2023

A group of fish and wildlife advocates in the Fraser Valley are raising the alarm about a provincial government plan to dig sediment out of the Vedder Canal during a pink salmon spawning year.

Pink salmon typically appear in the Vedder River, or Chilliwack River, every other year in August as they reach the end of their migration. According to Pacific Salmon Foundation, they are B.C.’s most populous salmon species and the least vulnerable to extinction.

The Fraser Valley Salmon Society, however, which advocates for the rights of anglers and supports habitat conservation, is concerned that the digging activity could disrupt pink salmon breeding.

“When we’re looking at our decline, when we’re looking at our decline in our chinook stocks as well as our chum, these are food fish for Indigenous people. Pinks could be near in the future,” said Dean Werk, president of the society.

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“I run a guiding company as well. These are the easiest, funnest fish to catch for any novice angler, any fly angler, any spoon angler. This is a generator of an economic windfall for the Province of B.C. and federal government.”

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In an emailed statement, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Changer Strategy said it is “proactively removing hazardous debris and sediment” from the canal and other river courses as part of its recovery from the catastrophic floods of November 2021.

The Vedder Canal moves water from the Chilliwack River valley to the Fraser River and requires ongoing sediment removal to for the river to pass within dike height, it said. Local First Nations and municipal governments are engaged in “emergency sediment removal” activities to mitigate future flood risk, it added.

“All work associated with this task force working group is guided by registered qualified professionals, local experts, and licensed engineers to complete works in a safe and environmentally sound fashion,” the ministry wrote.

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“The work is planned for this year during the lowest risk window of opportunity to avoid impacts to fish and fish habitat and follows a strict Construction Environmental Management Plan.”

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Werk said he understands the risks of sediment washing out or burying pink salmon beds in the gravel, but was “shocked” to find out this activity was taking place during an odd-numbered spawning year. Last year — ending in an even number — was not a pink salmon spawning year.

Biologist Marvin Rosenau, who teaches in the Fish, Wildlife and Recreation Program at BCIT, warned in 2021 that the disastrous floods between Nov. 14 and 15 could result in high fish mortality, particularly of pink salmon, which lay their eggs in the gravel at the main stems of the Fraser and Vedder/Chilliwack rivers.

“It has historically been one of the really rich spawning areas for pinks that spawn in the fall time,” he told Global News.

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“Gravel is an integral component, the stability of the gravel and the movement of the gravel is part of that ecosystem.”

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Roseneau said he and his peers don’t necessarily oppose sediment removal, but the removal of “too much” gravel at a time — something that has occurred in the past. He did, however, oppose removal during a “sacred” spawning year.

“When you take out large amounts of gravel in a given year, the rive, in November, when you get a little little rainstorm, it just unravels the whole stream and this destroys pink salmon,” he explained.

“Now, they’ve taken out so much gravel even the atmospheric flood didn’t replace all the gravel that was taken from 1991 or 1981. There was still a deficit from over-abstraction and natural erosion.”

Rosenau said he believes the province’s current proposal is among the “biggest gravel removal in any salmon stream in the whole history of British Columbia” and questioned the quality of survey work done ahead of time.


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