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

Ivan Scott. (Aaron Hinks photo)
Surrey mayor enters word war with speakers, councillor

McCallum calls brief recess after asking two speakers to leave chambers

Officers with the Lower Mainland Emergency Response Team were at a White Rock home Tuesday (Oct. 20) to assist Vancouver Police Department with execution of a search warrant. (Contributed photo)
ERT response to White Rock home connected to homicide: police

Search underway in the 15800-block of Prospect Crescent

The site of the former Rona store in Newton could be home to a park and civic amenities, in the 6900-block of King George Boulevard. (Photo: Google Street View)
Surrey buying 16 properties in Newton for parkland, civic amenities

Mayor Doug McCallum says project will be ‘fast-tracked’

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
White Rock dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

Dancers perform at the Museum of Surrey during the opening of “Being Punjabi: Unfolding the Surrey Story” exhibit in October 2019. (File photo: Malin Jordan)
NDP says it will build a South Asian museum in Surrey

Media event held Tuesday at park in Newton

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan arrives at Luxton Hall to cast their votes in advance polls for the provincial election in Langford, B.C., Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Pandemic election prompts voter suppression claims by B.C. Liberals

‘These emergencies require in us a maturity that has been lacking in politics for so long’

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of possibly decades-old airplane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of UBC geoscientists discovered the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

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 bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
RCMP cleared in fatal shooting of armed Lytton man in distress, police watchdog finds

IIO spoke to seven civillian witnesses and 11 police officers in coming to its decision

A 34-year-old man was treated for a gunshot wound in Williams Lake Monday, Oct 19, 2020. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake man treated for gunshot wound after accidental shooting: RCMP

Police are reminding residents to ensure firearms are not loaded when handling them

A injection kit is seen inside the newly opened Fraser Health supervised consumption site is pictured in Surrey, B.C., Tuesday, June 6, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. records 127 fatal overdoses in September, roughly 4 each day

Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria continued to see the highest numbers of overdoses

Most Read