Trans Mountain Pipeline claims that the early salmon run was unimpeded by their work despite an advocacy group claiming evidence to the contrary.
In an article posted on their website, Trans Mountain says they have completed their work at the Coquihalla River in Hope, and that “great care” was taken to ensure the protection of the environment and wildlife. Yet, Kate Tairyan, a professor at SFU and a member of the advocacy group Protect the Planet, says the excavators were working in the river on Aug. 15 and that dead salmon were found at the construction site.
“This morning the excavators were in the river, Aug. 15, swooping the water with whatever’s in the river,” says Tairyan who made the discovery of the dead salmon three weeks ago. “[Previously] they were filling the trench that they created there and bringing huge truck loads of rocks and dumping on the area where we know there’s fish.
“It’s heartbreaking. And I’m not the only concerned citizen here in Hope.”
Protect the Planet’s Instagram account @stoptmx posted drone footage allegedly taken on Aug. 12, showing excavators still operating in the river. A TikTok video posted last week showed an unidentified man confronting Trans Mountain workers over the work being done in the river. The video revealed the growing tension within the community over the salmon.
Tairyan says that she sent documentation to both Trans Mountain and the DFO. She had questions regarding the lack of environmental officers and Indigenous monitors at the construction site. According to the permit, an environmental officer and Indigenous monitor must be present at the site, at all times, every single day. Tairyan says she only saw the environmental officer once a week at the site and allegedly an Indigenous monitor only became present after she sent her concerns to Trans Mountain.
Protect the Planet has been asking the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to intervene and order the suspension of Trans Mountain activity until the salmon passed through their construction site.
In a report and letter sent to the Trans Mountain Corporation on Nov. 21, 2021, DFO acknowledged that the work being done in the river would permanently alter the spawning grounds of salmon and trout. Knowing this, DFO gave Trans Mountain an altered permit to work in the Coquihalla River Aug. 1 to Aug. 30. They didn’t retract or change the permit after they became aware of the early salmon run.
DFO was asked for comment but has yet to respond.
“We want the DFO to be more proactive [and] do better investigations,” Tairyan says. “We sent their offices emails documenting everything. We sent them photos, videos, everything. It took them eight days to send one person from Chilliwack to Hope. That’s a 30-minute drive and it took them so long to come here.”
Tairyan also claims that the Trans Mountain environmental officer, who she questioned about the dead salmon, allegedly told her that the fish had “already spawned” and that’s why they were dead. However, when Tairyan cut open five of the dead salmon found at the site, she saw that four had bellies full of eggs and all had been healthy before their deaths.
In response to concerns about their impact on the salmon migration, a media spokesperson for Trans Mountain said in an email to the Hope Standard that “in-stream work has now been completed in the Coquihalla River… Any early-run salmon were able to continue to move upstream through the river system unimpeded by Trans Mountain work.”
Salmon are a vulnerable keystone species important to all ecosystems in British Columbia. They are also important to many communities, especially Indigenous communities, throughout the province and work is being done to re-establish their numbers. The Coquihalla River is a tributary of the Fraser River and an important route for five species of Pacific salmon and steelhead trout. Though the salmon migration usually takes place in late August, it is early this year and it’s dominant.
It is suspected that the past and current heat waves in BC, along with the warmer waters, are contributing to this.