A aerial view shows the damage caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely

A aerial view shows the damage caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely

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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
30 new COVID-19 cases, five more deaths in Interior Health

This brings the total number of cases to 7,271 since testing began

Williams Lake’s Brock Hoyer films a segment of the newly-released The Way Home in the city of Revelstoke. (Ryen Dunford photo)
Brock Hoyer stars in new snowbike film: The Way Home

The film is completely free and was released on YouTube on Jan. 22, 2021

The body of Kenneth Seymour Michell was discovered Jan. 14, 2021, behind a Williams Lake business a day after he was released by a judge on conditions. (Photo submitted)
Family looks for answers after Indigenous man dies by suicide following release from custody

System does not care about Indigenous peoples, says First Nations Leadership Council

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Interior Health reported 43 new COVID-19 cases in the region Feb. 23, 2021 and no additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
43 new cases of COVID reported in Interior Health

No new deaths, Williams Lake outbreak over

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

The late Michael Gregory, 57, is accused of sexually exploiting six junior high students between 1999 and 2005. (Pixabay)
Former Alberta teacher accused of sexually assaulting students found dead in B.C.

Mounties say Michael Gregory’s death has been deemed ‘non-suspicious’

According to a new poll, a majority of Canadians want to see illicit drugs decriminalized. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Majority of Canadians think it’s high time to decriminalize illicit drugs: poll

More than two-times the B.C. residents know someone who died from an overdose compared to rest of Canada

Interior Health officially declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Creekside Landing in Vernon on Jan. 3, which was followed by the first death from the virus 10 days later. (Kaigo photo)
COVID outbreak over at Vernon care home

Creekside Landing cleared of coronavirus, despite additional death in last day

(Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents can reserve provincial camp sites starting March 8

B.C. residents get priority access to camping reservations in province

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a BC Ferries vessel. (File photo)
B.C. ferry passengers arrested and fined for disturbance, refusing to wear masks

Police said woman threatened their pensions in Feb. 21 incident aboard Nanaimo-bound boat

Most Read