Threats to the Fraser River hit a new all-time high in 2019.
The impact of slides, habitat damage, and plummeting fish stocks will require political will and decisive action, according to Mark Angelo, chair of the Outdoor Recreation Council (ORC) of B.C.
“The Fraser River remains the heart and soul of our province but it’s also critically endangered,” Angelo said in ORC’s annual year-end statement, putting the Fraser at the top of the province’s list of most endangered rivers, if not the country’s.
The impact of the Big Bar slide on fish passage, land-clearing, the potential extinction of Thompson-Chilcotin steelhead, non-selective gillnet fisheries, dismal salmon returns, climate change, and the need to restore damaged habitats, all play into it.
The impact of these issues on the river’s health exceed those in any year since the ORC began compiling data on the Fraser almost 40 years ago.
“The threats and pressures confronting the river can be addressed if there’s a will, but we must act quickly and decisively,” Angelo warned.
Big Bar slide blocked fish passage for salmon returning to key Fraser River tributaries such as the Stuart, Quesnel and Chilco River systems. Many of the Fraser’s sockeye stocks are dependent on tributaries in the northern part of the river’s drainage as are many chinook populations.
Extensive land clearing in ‘Heart of the Fraser’ between Hope and Mission have taken out huge swaths of habitat essential to both sturgeon and salmon around key islands such as Herrling, Carey and Strawberry.
While efforts are underway to restore some of these key private lands by acquiring them, one of the most important things governments can do now is to designate the islands within the Heart of the Fraser as an “ecologically significant area,” a new designation created under the Fisheries Act, Angelo stressed.
The Heart of the Fraser sustains almost 30 species of fish as well as B.C.’s largest single spawning run of salmon along with its finest sturgeon spawning habitat. It’s key rearing habitat for millions of young salmon, especially chinook which provide the primary food source for southern resident killer whales.
“The threats facing the Fraser River reached a new zenith this past year and yet, there is the potential to rectify many of these if the desire exists,”Angelo warned, as someone who first paddled the full length of the Fraser in 1975 and is both an Order of BC and Order of Canada recipient for his river conservation efforts.
“The events that have unfolded along the Heart of the Fraser have been disheartening,” Angelo, internationally renowned river advocate and ORC Rivers Chair. “We have to do more to protect what is Canada’s most important fish habitat.”