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Statement: At-risk Fraser Chinook and Sockeye salmon stocks face critical challenge from Big Bar natural rockslide

July 10, 2019

Vancouver, British Columbia – Yesterday the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard Jonathan Wilkinson accompanied by Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development in British Columbia Doug Donaldson, were in Lillooet, B.C. to participate in a helicopter fly-over assessment of the Big Bar Landslide on the Fraser River. While in Lillooet the Ministers met with key specialists working on the slide and impacted First Nations. The focus was on what next steps could be taken to best manage the impacts of this natural disaster on Fraser salmon runs.

Chinook and Sockeye salmon moving up the Fraser River are currently running up a high speed waterfall caused by the rockslide. Preliminary in-water acoustic monitoring has shown that only a small proportion of these fish are currently able to get past this barrier to spawn.

Fraser River Chinook and Sockeye runs are critical for First Nations communities, for recreational and  commercial fisheries, and for large marine mammals, including the Southern Resident killer whale. It is imperative that we do whatever we can to enable fish to pass. Given the importance of these species, and the fact they are of conservation concern, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is working actively with the Province of British Columbia, and potentially impacted First Nations in developing options to secure passage through the area to save as many of these salmon as possible.

At this stage, we estimate that around 2,000 fish are arriving at the barrier everyday, with the number expected to increase to tens of thousands in coming weeks. That’s immediate action needs to be taken, and so we are exploring all options to enhance fish passage. We are also concurrently considering other actions, including fisheries management measures, that may help us ensure that some of the salmon can reach their spawning grounds and successfully reproduce.

  • The approach we are taking, in collaboration with our First Nation and provincial partners includes:
  • Ensuring the safety of those working to assess and respond to the rock slide,
  • Securing the safe passage of fish past the obstruction, and
  • Considering any other measures, including fisheries management measures that may assist with the long term survival of these runs.

Given the challenges posed by the rockslide, federal, provincial and First Nations partners will need to complete the assessment of available options to act in the near term. Taking action may require difficult decisions but all British Columbians have a strong interest in ensuring that we are doing everything possible to ensure the long-term survival and sustainability of Fraser River Chinook and Sockeye salmon.

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Marie-Pascale Des Rosiers
Director of Communications
Office of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
Tel: 613-314-4591

Media Relations
Fisheries and Oceans Canada


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