British Columbia

'We're losing time': Tl'azt'en First Nation very concerned about rock slide blocking salmon run

A rock slide blocking a narrow part of Fraser River just west of Clinton, about 100 kilometres northwest of Kamloops, has members of the Tl'azt'en First Nation very concerned that salmon that are already endangered won't be able to migrate to Northern B.C. this summer.

Salmon play a big role in the nation's traditional diet

Crews are using portable hydraulic rams and airbags, chippers, drills and small, low velocity explosives to further break the rocks and create the passageways. (Chris Corday/CBC)

A rock slide blocking a narrow part of Fraser River just west of Clinton, about 100 kilometres northwest of Kamloops, has members of the Tl'azt'en First Nation very concerned that salmon that are already endangered won't be able to migrate to Northern B.C. this summer.

The province discovered the rock slide late June and has since been trying to decide on a solution to help get the salmon past the blocked area in the river. So far, rock scalers have been working on stabilizing the area above the slide, but no concrete plan on how to move the salmon past the obstruction has been announced.

"We're getting more and more concerned," said Darren Haskell, natural resources director for the Tl'azt'en First Nation.

"In terms of the timelines, I think we're running out of time to get our early Stuart back up here."

The early Stuart salmon run was expected to be near the area of the rock slide around July 9, he said.

However, they don't know how many fish have made it past the slide, if any.

"I'm quite certain that a lot of early Stuart are probably milling about down below the slide already," said Haskell.

Fear in the community

At an annual general meeting earlier this week held in the First Nation community, located about 65 kilometres north of Fort St. James, people were scared and concerned when they heard Haskell's presentation about the immediate need to get salmon past the obstruction in the Fraser River, he told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk.

If the salmon aren't able to migrate north, "it would be a huge blow to our community," he said. "In terms of or people depending on traditional foods, it's a huge part of our diet," said Haskell.

"Dependence on traditional foods like salmon, and you know moose and deer and elk are very important for feeding the families throughout the year."

For the Tl'azt'en nation, salmon are not only a significant food source but also part of the social culture.  

"We have multiple families at different sites in the village where they bring the salmon in and it's a big social event. You know, everybody's happy, everybody's talking," said Haskell.

"It's a social activity and it's part of our culture that really kind of lets us know that summer is here."

Possible solutions

On Tuesday, the the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said rock scalers working on removing material from the rock face where the slide happened, had made "considerable progress."

Some of the challenges facing remediation work include, rapid water flow, migrating stocks and difficult access to the remote site in the river.

Crews rappel down the rock face to remove loose rock to stabilize the area where the slide happened. (Chris Corday/CBC)

One solution being considered by Fisheries and Oceans Canada is a fish passageway being proposed by the inventors of a pneumatic pressure tube called the salmon cannon.

However, Vincent Bryan the CEO of Whoosh innovations which developed the system, said it would take at least two weeks to set it up, which is too long according to Haskell.

"We're losing time," he said.

Federal and provincial officials are also considering the possibility of transporting salmon upstream using trucks or helicopters, which Haskell thinks will be very stressful for the fish.

"[However], if it comes to that, I think that's what we have to do," he said. 

Haskell said it's time to start discussions about making arrangements for the nation to access other salmon stocks.

"I don't think we can wait and watch," he said. 

Daybreak host Carolina de Ryk speaks with Darren Haskell, Natural Resources Director for the Tl'azt'en nation, about fears that salmon may not win their fight past the Big Bar Slide on the Fraser River. 10:57

With files from Daybreak North and Michelle Ghoussoub

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