Scene of the Mount Polley mine tailings spill.

Estimated 1.5 million sockeye bound for fouled Quesnel Lake

Mount Polley mine tailings spill raises fears for Fraser River salmon

An estimated 1.5 million migrating Fraser River sockeye salmon are destined for Quesnel Lake, which has now been contaminated by the Mount Polley mine tailings pond spill.

The Quesnel system sockeye make up a major portion of what’s hoped to be a record run this year, according to Craig Orr, executive director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

“This is one of the greatest environmental disasters we’ve had on the Fraser,” Orr said. “Some of the effluent will be getting in the Fraser. The big question is how concentrated, how harmful it will be. Some of these compounds have short term impacts and some have much longer term impacts.”

While the Quesnel Lake stocks are among the Fraser’s most abundant, Orr is particularly concerned that other much weaker stocks that spawn in other tributaries of the Fraser could be harmed.

“People have to be concerned about not just what it means for the returning fish but for the juveniles rearing in the lake right now,” he said. “We don’t know if it’s going to accumulate in their bodies or potentially affect their olfactions, their ability to find their home waters.”

Resident fish at risk include threatened bull trout and plentiful rainbow trout.

The huge spill of tailings effluent tore down Hazeltine Creek, which is where endangered Interior coho salmon are supposed to spawn in a few weeks.

Gord Sterritt, executive director of the Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance, said the group, which represents 23 First Nations from Williams Lake to the Fraser’s headwaters, had already raised concerns that planned releases of effluent into the creek by mine operator Imperial Metals might harm the coho.

Chinook salmon also spawn near the outlet of Quesnel Lake at the Quesnel River.

“Those fish will be holding or just about to enter the spawning grounds pretty quick,” Sterritt said. “We’re pretty concerned about what the toxic elements are going to do those fish. And then there’s the scouring of the debris pile that is potentially going to be moving down the lake and into the river.”

Contamination that reaches the mainstem Fraser could affect fish spawning hundreds of kilometres away, such as in Stuart Lake near Fort St. James.

Sterritt said he’s fielding calls from First Nations as far downstream as Lillooet that are alarmed about the potential impact on their food fisheries.

“People are already talking about not fishing because they don’t know what the toxin levels are going to be in those fish when they ingest them.”

Imperial Metals president Bryan Kynoch described the effluent as “relatively benign.”

He told a news conference Tuesday the effluent nearly meets drinking water standards and the main threat to fish is from the silt, which he said is settling rapidly.

Sto:lo fishery advisor Ernie Crey said there remains widespread concern in aboriginal communities.

“Eventually, this stuff will wend its way into the Fraser,” he said.

Orr noted the spill came just three days after provincial government approval of the new KSM gold mine near the headwaters of the Nass River.

“It’s the same type of mine structure with a lot of tailings placed very close to fish-bearing waters.”

 

Just Posted

Grand opening of Molson Coors Fraser Valley Brewery at Chilliwack cause for celebration

Ribbon-cutting with dignitaries, Molson brass and family marked the official grand opening

Two more on witness stand accuse former Chilliwack youth leader of sexual touching

BC Supreme Court justice rules similar fact evidence allowed in trial of Codie Anderson

East Coast comedian Ron James bringing ‘Full Throttle Tour’ to Chilliwack Cultural Centre

James is at work on the first draft of his first book, ‘All Over the Map’

Multiple accidents on Highway 1 slowing morning commutes

One accident just past 232 Street in Langley, second is just East of Bradner Street in Abbotsford

PHOTOS: Chilliwack Terry Fox Run in the rain

Wet weather didn’t dampen spirits or enthusiasm for the annual cancer fundraiser

VIDEO: Drone footage documents work to free salmon at Big Bar landslide

Video shows crews working to remove rocks and wood, and transporting salmon by helicopter

Defense says burden of proof not met in double murder case against Victoria father

Closing statements begin in trial for man accused of killing daughters Christmas 2017

B.C. dog breeder banned again after 46 dogs seized

The SPCA seized the animals from Terry Baker, 66, in February 2018

Surrey mom allegedly paid $400,000 for son in U.S. college bribery scam

Xiaoning Sui, 48, was arrested in Spain on Monday night

Three dogs found shot dead in Prince George ditch

The three adult dogs appeared to be well cared for before being found with gunshot wounds, BC SPCA says

Vancouver police could be using drones to fight crime by end of year

The police department has already purchased three drones, as well as three others for training

B.C. party bus company to be monitored after 40 intoxicated teens found onboard

Police received tip teens and young adults were drinking on party buses and limousines in Surrey

B.C. cabinet minister denies that Surrey mayor’s friend attended government meeting

Surrey councillor questions Vancouver businessman Bob Cheema’s involvement in official meeting

Rick Mercer calls out Conservative candidate in B.C. for fake meme

‘Not true. All fake. Please Stop,’ tweeted Rick Mercer in response

Most Read