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Fraser sockeye could be impacted by mining spill

Concern is being expressed in Fraser River communities about the mining spill Monday in Northern B.C. and its potential impact on migrating sockeye. - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE
Concern is being expressed in Fraser River communities about the mining spill Monday in Northern B.C. and its potential impact on migrating sockeye.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS FILE

A huge spill of mining waste that hit northern B.C. waterways on Monday could impact the big return of sockeye heading up the Fraser River.

Ernie Crey, a fisheries advisor for Sto:lo Tribal Council, and Cheam band councillor said he has been fielding calls from Sto:lo fishers, environmental groups and conservationists alike.

Reports of fish dying off near the spill have started to come in, he said.

"That could be for a couple of reasons, either exposure to toxins from the spill, or the siltation, where the very fine grey silt ends up clogging the gills. The fish can't breathe and they end up asphyxiating."

The central question becomes what happens if or when the spilled material from the pond reaches the Fraser?

"They're all very concerned about this disaster. They want to know how quickly it will get here and what can be done," he said. "A spill from a mine tailings pond is a serious matter and the potential impact can't be underestimated."

No one has any answers at the ready about the scale of this spill that occurred when the pond dam broke. A water-use ban is expected to grow to include residents of the Quesnel and Cariboo Rivers.

The tailings pond of the Mount Polley mine in Likely, B.C. is located southeast of Quesnel. The Cariboo Regional District issued the water-ban advisory for the town of Likely and for residents around Quesnel Lake, Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek and Cariboo Creek.

The Quesnel River is linked to the Fraser River, but a water use ban has not been imposed in communities along the Fraser at this point.

"A spill like this would be a big concern at any time," said Crey. "But it's worrisome especially now because of so many sockeye coming up the Fraser. Some will be heading to points north of Quesnel."

The Fraser Panel of the Pacific Salmon Commission will probably have this subject on the agenda to discuss in the coming week.

"I have no doubt the scientists and advisors will be looking hard at the implications of this very shortly," he said.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

twitter.com/chwkjourno

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