The remote site of a rockslide on the Fraser River near Big Bar, continues to fill with rocky debris, which is impeding any fish-rescue efforts. (Submitted)

First Nations leadership call salmon blockage ‘an extreme crisis’

Rock slide threatening Indigenous communities’ food sovereignty along the Fraser River, they say

Several First Nations leaders say a “state of emergency” could arise from the blocked salmon situation necessitating immediate action on the part of other governments.

The remote site of a rockslide on the Fraser near Big Bar continues to fill with rocky debris, which is impeding any fish-rescue efforts despite the establishment of a multi-agency Incident Command Post out of Lilooet with experts working on it every day.

“The Big Bar rockslide has occurred at the worst possible time of year as key chinook, steelhead, coho and sockeye salmon runs traverse that area of the Fraser River,” said Cheryl Casimer of the First Nations Summit political executive, in a joint news release.

READ MORE: Experts seeking solutions to free fish

The blockage is threatening the “food sovereignty” of Indigenous communities all along the Fraser River since it will not only impact food sources this year but in future as well.

“Immediate mitigation efforts, in consultation with impacted Fraser River First Nations, must be the top priority for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and associated provincial ministries,” Casimer added.

Only 700 fish are estimated to have gotten through as of last week, and it is unknown how exactly how many salmon may be trapped at the base of the blockage.

On Thursday the First Nations Leadership Panel convened for the third time to discuss and consider fish passage mitigation options, according to information from the Incident Command Post management team. The panel is jointly led by DFO, FLNRORD and First Nations leadership.

“To date, three staged fish passage mitigation options and support for collaborative monitoring methods have been agreed upon by the panel via consensus amongst leaders,” according to a release.

The slide has created a five-metre high waterfall which is obstructing salmon from travelling upstream on their migration route to spawning beds.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs called the rockslide disaster “an extreme crisis for our sacred salmon,” and is calling for fisheries targeting Fraser stocks to be temporarily closed on the river until a solution is found.

“We fully support the call from the Fraser Salmon Management Council (FSMC) that all recreational and commercial fisheries fishing Fraser River salmon stocks immediately stop and any contemplated recreational and commercial fishery, including catch and release, not take place until after it is determined that all salmon have safe access around the slide area and that any such openings only be considered after conservation and First Nations priority needs are met,” Phillip said.

Watching salmon stocks dwindle has been excruciating for communities that depend on the food source.

“Natural disasters such as landslides are becoming more common due to climate change and we are deeply concerned by the Big Bar rockslide and the fragile future of the many salmon species which First Nations depend on for cultural and physical sustenance. Urgent action must be taken to mitigate this blockage, not only to ensure the future of salmon survival, but also to provide continued abundance into the future,” stated Regional Chief Terry Teegee.

Leaders will continue to monitor the situation and push for commitments to immediate mitigation of the rockslide to maximize salmon migration for this and future years and immediately expedite the creation and implementation of a plan including full participation of Canoe Creek Band, High Bar Band and Esketemc and all other concerned First Nations, that immediately allows salmon to safely make it through or around the slide area.

Several types of fish are being impacted, including some of conservation concern, officials said. The impacted stocks include: Interior Fraser Steelhead (Chilcotin), Spring/Summer Chinook, Interior Fraser Coho, Early Stuart Sockeye, Early Summer Sockeye, Summer Run Sockeye and Fraser Pinks.

READ MORE: Slide saw massive rock fall into the river


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