A state of emergency and complete fishing closure should be called because of the Big Bar rock slide in the Fraser River, said Esket (Alkali Lake) Chief Fred Robbins Tuesday.
“Along the coast they aren’t feeling the impact and on July 18 they can start fishing, but I believe there should be a complete closure for all fishing on the coast,” said Robbins, noting the impacts for Interior communities that rely on salmon as a food source could be devastating if the fish can’t get through the slide.
Robbins flew over the slide area last week and said the rock that fell into the Fraser River that happened around June 21 or 22 has caused a 15-metre waterfall and the only salmon making it over are bigger than 80 centimetres.
“If only salmon that are 80 cm or larger are going to get by, then probably four million sockeye are going to be stuck behind this slide. It hasn’t been given the recognition that it deserves. There are scalers and a number of engineers on the river and they have set a camp at Lillooet. They do have plans in place, but the high waters and the debris are hindering those plans.”
On average the community catches between 450 to 550 food fish that go to elders and low-income families.
Their community does not do any commercial fishing or trading or bartering of fish, as the elders shun that, Robbins added.
Normally they fish in June and so far have only caught one Chinook.
Robbins called a meeting in the community on July 12 and told members they would not be fishing until the rock slide is dealt with.
“I think the early Stuart conservation effort is going to be destroyed I feel unless there are maybe a few early Stuart that made it through before the rock slide,” he said.
“The Stuart should be going through in the next week passed our (fishing) rock which is 15 kilometres north of the rock slide. This year is supposed to be a record run for the Chilko as well as the summer run.”
He said there is a back eddy below the slide now with so much debris he fears the salmon are probably starting to tuck themselves under the debris.
Robbins is proposing different options to deal with the slide.
One would be to put in a temporary fish weir to hold the fish back. Putting more rock in the river could create rest areas for the salmon and knock down the 15-metre water fall into more manageable levels.
“The salmon that are stuck behind the slide may end up looking for other tributaries to spawn, like 2012, when the Fraser waters were high, the early Stuart and summer runs were looking to spawn in Williams Lake and other fresh water tributaries such as Soda Creek and Word Creek.”
A second option is to drop concrete barriers by helicopter and place them on the edge of the river so fish can jump up a man-made fish ladder.
The final option, which Robbins said is the most far-fetched of the three is to bring in a whoosh system.
Essentially it is a 10,000 pound barge with tubes that could suck the fish through to the other side of the slide.
Problematic is the access to the river by truck, he said.
A final, and least desirable option, is to transfer the fish by helicopter, which Robbins said would cause distress and possible escapement.
“We need more boots on the ground and government to government to government discussion.”
Today, Minister Wilkinson signed an agreement with 76 First Nations in #BC to work nation-to-nation on decisions and recommendations for the management and conservation of Fraser salmon. https://t.co/fRXv60luI9 pic.twitter.com/oN36Qz8SX4
— Fisheries and Oceans (@FishOceansCAN) July 6, 2019
The Big Bar slide is not going to impact the Shuswap or Thompson runs, but will impact everything on the Fraser River — the Chilko, summer, Quesnel, late summer, pinks, coho and steelhead runs, Robbins said.
“If the Chilko run is destroyed, it is also going to destroy the economic benefits that the province feels along the coast,” Robbins said.
“I am recommending a complete closure of all fishery along the coast, that is commercial, recreation, tourism, catch and release.”
Robbins is part of an ad-hoc group made up of representatives on the Fraser River. There are 25 reps, so far, and growing , he said.
“I am part of the technical working group and we are having conference calls every other day for updates.”