A aerial view shows the damage caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely

A aerial view shows the damage caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely

Mine spill ‘unlikely’ to harm spawning Fraser sockeye

Threat of contaminants to salmon fry now rearing in Quesnel Lake is less clear, says Pacific Salmon Commission

The Mount Polley mine tailings pond spill is “unlikely” to significantly harm Fraser River sockeye now returning to spawn in fouled Quesnel Lake, according to the Pacific Salmon Commission.

The agency managing salmon fisheries said it doesn’t expect the peak of the sockeye migration to reach Quesnel Lake until the first week of September, giving about 20 days for river and lake conditions there to improve.

In a news release issued Friday it also noted the “encouraging results” of initial water quality tests released by the province is a cause for optimism.

But the commission cautioned there are also juvenile sockeye currently rearing in the lake and it’s too soon to tell whether they will be severely affected.

“The spill could impact their survival and food supply,” it said.

Great concern persists among First Nations and other salmon users over the potential for contamination and long-lasting damage to the fishery as a result of the mine disaster.

Between 845,000 and 2.95 million sockeye are forecast to spawn in the Quesnel system this year – about a quarter of the summer run and seven per cent of all Fraser sockeye stocks combined.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has not directly commented on the threat to salmon, saying Environment Canada is the lead federal agency.

“Fisheries and Oceans Canada will be closely monitoring the salmon run as it approaches the Quesnel system over the coming days to assess the potential effects of these pollutants and other factors including water temperature on salmon returns,” the department said via an emailed statement.

The Fraser continues to run at lower levels and higher temperatures than average, adding to concern that significant numbers of sockeye could die on their way upstream before spawning.

But officials say incoming sockeye look healthy and most are migrating through Johnstone Strait, rather than Juan de Fuca Strait on the west side of Vancouver Island.

Commercial fishing has already been open offshore to trollers since Aug. 2 and gillnetters who fish on the lower river between Steveston and Mission will get their first opening on Monday afternoon.

There’s no in-season estimate of the overall run size yet.

But major components of the run are tracking close to the mid-range of what had been predicted in advance.

That suggests a total sockeye return closer to the median forecast of 23 million, rather than the low end of seven million or a record high return of 72 million.

Area E Gillnetters Association spokesman Bob McKamey said it looks to be the best return since the large run of more than 30 million sockeye in 2010.

The last two years have been bleak for gillnetters, with only one chum opening each of the past two years and no sockeye fisheries.

“They have waited a long time for a sockeye fishery. A lot us are just looking forward to getting a fresh one to the table.”

He expects steady openings for the 300 or so commercial gillnetting boats for several weeks.

“We’re expecting regular week-day openings from now until September.”

Limited recreational fisheries for sockeye opened on the Fraser River last week, which catch limits of four per day below the Mission bridge and two per day upstream. Aboriginal ceremonial and food sockeye fishing started two weeks ago.

Unionized commercial fishermen, meanwhile, have denounced the lack of government oversight of the Mount Polley mine.

“We have fleets of boats with observers or cameras watching our every move to fish sustainably, and nobody is watching these folks as they destroy our ecosystem,” said said Kim Olsen, president of the Unifor local representing fishermen and allied workers.

“Where has the BC Ministry of Environment been? Where has Environment Canada been? The oversight is pathetic.”

– with files from Phil Melnychuk / Maple Ridge News

Scene of the Mount Polley mine tailings spill. — image credit: YouTube / CRD video

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Signs geared to protecting salmon habitat were damaged at the Fraser River near Chilliwack. (Facebook)
New signs for protecting Fraser River habitat near Chilliwack vandalized

Fishery officers want off-road users to enjoy river resource in the ‘least damaging way possible’

Abbotsford Regional Hospital (Black Press file photo)
Nurse assaulted at Abbotsford hospital in same ward as 2019 dumbbell attack

‘Completely unacceptable that nurses continue to be assaulted,’ says union president

Riverside Calvary Church in Walnut Grove. (Langley Advance Times file)
B.C. is ‘stereotyping’ churches as riskier for COVID than other spaces, lawyer argues

Judge said that freedom of expression, religion are not at issue in the case

A real estate sold sign hangs in front of a Canadian property Friday, Nov. 4, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy.
Fraser Valley Real Estate Board breaks sales records 6 months in a row

‘Levels never seen before in the 100-year history of the FVREB’

(Black Press file photo)
Harrison Mills boy, 11, dies from ‘extensive injuries’: Homicide team

Agassiz RCMP were called out Friday to assist with a child in medical distress

Older rental apartments are prime candidates for renovations, and could result in lost affordable housing stock. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
B.C.’s renoviction overhaul a good start, but won’t preserve affordable stock, lawyer says

And still no protection for people who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19

(Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
B.C. WHL teams to hit the ice with Kelowna, Kamloops hub cities

Kelowna, Kamloops centres chosen to host B.C. WHL teams for 24-game regular season

A memorial to Hudson Brooks outside the South Surrey RCMP detachment. (File photo)
Surrey officer who fatally shot Hudson Brooks recounts ‘absolutely terrifying’ incident

Const. Elizabeth Cucheran testified at coroner’s inquest Tuesday morning

The machines are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. (CANADIAN PRESS)
Feds dole out $3.5M for ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer opioids in B.C.

The machines are located in four cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Victoria

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. Tourism businesses have been hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions on travel. (Destination B.C.)
Tourism, small business getting COVID-19 help, B.C. minister says

$300M grant program has delivered $50 million so far

The incident happened in downtown Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
Castlegar teen recounts stabbing after stranger breaks into grandmother’s house

The unnamed teen survived a terrifying attack Feb. 21

Dr. Amit Desai of St. Francis Hospital receives a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 17. (Photo courtesy of CHI Franciscan)
B.C. has now vaccinated more people from COVID-19 than total confirmed cases

B.C. has reached a milestone, vaccinating roughly 1.6% of its population from the coronavirus

Most Read