Premier John Horgan travelled to Big Bar, where significant work is underway by provincial and federal governments, First Nations and a suite of technical experts to help salmon in the Fraser River pass through an obstruction created by a large landslide and reach their spawning grounds.
Premier Horgan visited the incident command post in Lillooet and accompanied officials on a helicopter tour of the rockslide site just north of the Big Bar ferry.
“The rock scalers, scientists, First Nations and many others who are working tirelessly to help Fraser salmon over the Big Bar slide are doing an extraordinary job,” said Premier Horgan. “But it will be at least a week before they’ll know if they’ve been successful.”
Premier Horgan said the unprecedented joint effort by provincial and federal governments, First Nations and technical experts (including geotechnical engineers, fish passage experts and fish biologists), is working on three fronts to help millions of salmon move upstream. Since the landslide was discovered in late June, they have been working diligently to:
- stabilize the slide site (including the canyon walls above it);
- restore an open passage in the river for migrating fish; and
- ensure that fish can move freely upstream to their spawning grounds.
With support from First Nations and technical experts, a plan has been completed and is being implemented. Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the B.C. government have been assessing potential impacts on salmon that are migrating to their spawning grounds within the Fraser River system.
The situation is complex because the landslide occurred in a remote section of the Fraser River, with steep canyon walls and turbulent, swift-moving water. The site is also not accessible by existing public roads. Rock scaling (to remove loose rock from the cliff above the river and the canyon wall so it is safer for people to work below) is mostly complete but is expected to continue for a few more days.
Officials from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard have been working with local partners to meet the project’s goals. A Unified Command Incident Management Team was established on June 30, 2019, in Lillooet to co-ordinate planning and prioritize objectives. This team is committed to doing everything possible to ensure that salmon species will be able to reach their spawning grounds.
A First Nations Leadership Panel was formed to discuss options for fish passage mitigation, with representation from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, B.C.'s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, and First Nations from the Fraser River watershed and river approach area. First Nations are actively involved in the decision-making process.
Several measures have already been implemented or are being evaluated to help fish get past the slide site and reach their spawning grounds:
- Rock could be carefully moved into the river to recreate a natural fish ladder.
- Aluminum fish ladders are being constructed and will be on-site within the next two weeks (on schedule), ready to be deployed in the river by a helicopter when river conditions are suitable, to assist with fish passage.
- The use of helicopters and fish transport tanks was successfully tested on July 22 to move a small number of fish above the slide site. This system may assist with transporting small numbers of fish from early runs (e.g., chinook salmon) above the slide site, but is not a practical way of moving large numbers of fish.
- A fish wheel has been located at Rivers Inlet and is scheduled to be installed and operational by July 30. A fish wheel is a water-powered device used for catching fish, which consists of a revolving wheel with baskets and paddles attached to its rim.
- Options for moving fish by truck past the slide area are also being evaluated.
- The Big Bar Landslide First Nations Leadership Panel provides the unified command input on critical decisions, in conjunction with the Executive Strategic Advisory Committee.
- The Unified Command Incident Management Team includes individuals from B.C.'s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (including staff from the BC Wildfire Service), the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (including the Canadian Coast Guard) and First Nations. Staff from Emergency Management BC have also been assisting.
For the latest information on the Big Bar landslide and remediation activities, visit: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/emergency-response-and-recovery/incident-summaries/big-bar-landslide-incident