Mine spill ‘unlikely’ to harm spawning Fraser sockeye

Threat of contaminants to salmon fry now rearing in Quesnel Lake is less clear, says Pacific Salmon Commission

The Mount Polley mine tailings pond spill is “unlikely” to significantly harm Fraser River sockeye now returning to spawn in fouled Quesnel Lake, according to the Pacific Salmon Commission.

The agency managing salmon fisheries said it doesn’t expect the peak of the sockeye migration to reach Quesnel Lake until the first week of September, giving about 20 days for river and lake conditions there to improve.

In a news release issued Friday it also noted the “encouraging results” of initial water quality tests released by the province is a cause for optimism.

But the commission cautioned there are also juvenile sockeye currently rearing in the lake and it’s too soon to tell whether they will be severely affected.

“The spill could impact their survival and food supply,” it said.

Great concern persists among First Nations and other salmon users over the potential for contamination and long-lasting damage to the fishery as a result of the mine disaster.

Between 845,000 and 2.95 million sockeye are forecast to spawn in the Quesnel system this year – about a quarter of the summer run and seven per cent of all Fraser sockeye stocks combined.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has not directly commented on the threat to salmon, saying Environment Canada is the lead federal agency.

“Fisheries and Oceans Canada will be closely monitoring the salmon run as it approaches the Quesnel system over the coming days to assess the potential effects of these pollutants and other factors including water temperature on salmon returns,” the department said via an emailed statement.

The Fraser continues to run at lower levels and higher temperatures than average, adding to concern that significant numbers of sockeye could die on their way upstream before spawning.

But officials say incoming sockeye look healthy and most are migrating through Johnstone Strait, rather than Juan de Fuca Strait on the west side of Vancouver Island.

Commercial fishing has already been open offshore to trollers since Aug. 2 and gillnetters who fish on the lower river between Steveston and Mission will get their first opening on Monday afternoon.

There’s no in-season estimate of the overall run size yet.

But major components of the run are tracking close to the mid-range of what had been predicted in advance.

That suggests a total sockeye return closer to the median forecast of 23 million, rather than the low end of seven million or a record high return of 72 million.

Area E Gillnetters Association spokesman Bob McKamey said it looks to be the best return since the large run of more than 30 million sockeye in 2010.

The last two years have been bleak for gillnetters, with only one chum opening each of the past two years and no sockeye fisheries.

“They have waited a long time for a sockeye fishery. A lot us are just looking forward to getting a fresh one to the table.”

He expects steady openings for the 300 or so commercial gillnetting boats for several weeks.

“We’re expecting regular week-day openings from now until September.”

Limited recreational fisheries for sockeye opened on the Fraser River last week, which catch limits of four per day below the Mission bridge and two per day upstream. Aboriginal ceremonial and food sockeye fishing started two weeks ago.

Unionized commercial fishermen, meanwhile, have denounced the lack of government oversight of the Mount Polley mine.

“We have fleets of boats with observers or cameras watching our every move to fish sustainably, and nobody is watching these folks as they destroy our ecosystem,” said said Kim Olsen, president of the Unifor local representing fishermen and allied workers.

“Where has the BC Ministry of Environment been? Where has Environment Canada been? The oversight is pathetic.”

– with files from Phil Melnychuk / Maple Ridge News

Scene of the Mount Polley mine tailings spill. — image credit: YouTube / CRD video

Just Posted

Police watchdog probes man’s death in Chilliwack in alleged parental child abduction

Independent Investigations Office called in after police use Taser on man

Overnight snow buries Chilliwack in white

Nearly 27 cm fall over a 24-hour period

Missed opportunities haunt Chilliwack Chiefs in loss to Prince George

The better team lost in BCHL action Friday night as the Spruce Kings escaped with a 2-1 road win.

Book launch for Being Ts’elxwéyeqw is going ahead tonight

Sto:lo Research Centre is hosting the event, which was rescheduled and going ahead despite the snow

Downtown dispensary raided in Chilliwack

Police execute search warrant Wednesday, seizing pot, edibles, oils, cash, business records and more

The 2018 B.C. Games wrap up in Kamloops

The B.C. Winter Games comes to a close after a weekend of fun and excitment

B.C. boosts support for former youth in government care

More support coming for rent, child care and health care while they go back to school

Concert-goers unfazed by Hedley sexual misconduct allegations

Frontman Jacob Hoggard thanked fans from the ‘bottom of our hearts’ at Halifax’s Scotiabank Centre

Original B.C. Games participant-turned-sensei officiating 39 years later

Langley judo sensei was a competitor at the inaugural B.C. Winter Games 40 years ago

Snowfall warning, travel advisory in effect for Coquihalla

Coquihalla Highway between Hope and Merritt to receive 10 to 20 cm of snow Sunday

PHOTOS: Harnessing diverse abilities on the court at the B.C. Games

Basketball is one of two Special Olympics events at the B.C. Winter Games in Kamloops

B.C. VIEWS: Our not-so-New Democrats don’t rock the boat

Finance Minister Carole James takes the wheel, steers similar course

OLYMPIC ROUNDUP: Canadians all smiles after record medal haul

Team Canada is taking home a record 29 medals from Pyeongchang – 11 gold, eight silver, 10 bronze

‘All of us should be ashamed’: Calls for change after jury finds Raymond Cormier not guilty

Jury acquitted Raymond Cormier in the death of Tina Fontaine after 11-hour deliberation

Most Read