The landslide at Big Bar on the Fraser River is obstructing natural fish passage. (Incident Command Post photo)

DFO responds to ‘state of emergency’ call from First Nations

‘Our shared goal is to fully restore the sustainable, natural fish passage at the site’: DFO

The call by First Nations leaders for a state of emergency to be declared on the Fraser River at the Big Bar landslide site was formally acknowledged this week by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The request was for DFO to do whatever it takes to clear the obstruction in the river more quickly to save salmon stocks at risk.

“We respectfully acknowledge the call from the First Nations Leadership Council,” according to DFO spokesperson Michelle Imbeau Dec. 10 in an emailed statement.

READ MORE: FN demand action on Big Bar slide

“The Big Bar Landslide and the work being done to restore fish passage through the slide site was, and continues to be, a top priority for the Government of Canada.”

The remote location on the river, fluctating water levels and dangerous conditions at the site were some of the obstacles this past summer.

“Our shared goal is to fully restore the sustainable, natural fish passage at the site of the Big Bar Landslide,” Imbeau added.

That commitment, made in partnership with the Province of British Columbia and First Nations, to address the risk to B.C. salmon, remains in place, and comes with “a strong awareness” of the impact of the slide and the deep cultural significance of salmon to Indigenous communities.

“This awareness has not changed,” according to DFO.

Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chair of the Tŝilhqot’in National Government, also said the salmon need all the help they can get immediately, and that it constitutes an “emergency” of the highest priority.

“There is only a small window of opportunity. They have to get on it,” Alphonse said. Inaction could lead to “catastrophic failure” of 2020 salmon and steelhead. The crisis affects all First Nations north of the slide site, not just his Tŝilhqot’in community located within 100 to 150 kilometres from the blockage.

The DFO rep indicated that is clearly understood.

“This is undoubtedly a conservation crisis, and we are doing everything possible to address this barrier, and to protect Pacific salmon stocks.”

READ MORE: Clearing the way for fish passage

The unique partnership that was forged at the outset in July 2019, allows a “joint response” by the feds, B.C. and First Nations, as well as they work toward contracting out for the “urgent winter work to clear the remaining barrier on the Fraser.”

The request for information (RFI) went out Nov. 27 “to gather input from industry and First Nations to determine available solutions, as well as interest and capability of the marketplace for the construction and environmental remediation services needed to re-establish natural fish passage on the Fraser River.”

That RFI closed on Friday, December 6, and all procurement options are being considered given the urgency.


@CHWKjourno
jfeinberg@theprogress.com

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