Editor’s note: On June 10, 2020: Fisheries and Oceans Canada told a Commons committee that last year’s early runs of Stuart sockeye and chinook salmon weren’t able to pass the Big Bar landslide, north of Lillooet. About 60,000 fish were subsequently helped over the slide and another 220,000 were able to swim through after the Fraser River’s water volume dropped.
By Quinn Bender, Prince Rupert Northern View, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Fraser River salmon have begun arriving in larger numbers at the site of the Big Bar landslide.
As of Aug. 5 Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is reporting 2,176 salmon were detected at the Churn Creek sonar station 40km upstream of the slide, saying it’s a positive indicator of a successful migration past the barrier.
Whooshh Portal System
DFO issued an update of the massive project Aug. 7, which involves the Whooshh Passage Portal, or so-called “salmon cannon,” and a fleet of trucks to assist the fish as needed.
With work now complete on a higher capacity Whoosh system, consisting of six tubes able to move 15,000 fish 160 metres every 24 hours north of the slide, crews have been focused on improvements and system optimization.
“New filters were installed to reduce sediment in the water supply before it reaches the fine spray misters and other sensitivecomponents,” the DFO update reads. “Crews also added mesh and netting to better guide fish movement within the concreteladder and the steep pass ramp to reduce incidental harm.”
Other work includes constructing walkways and ramps, improving vehicle and equipment access, and upgrading rock fallprotection measures.
The fish passage network is part of ongoing mitigation efforts since the landslide was discovered in late June of 2019, causing 75,000 cubic metres of rock to fall into the river roughly 100 kilometres north of Lillooet, blocking spawning salmon passage into B.C.’s Interior.
Water Levels Have Fallen
South of the site new fish are being counted in the low thousands every day.
The good news follows a month of record-setting water flows that halted the summer salmon runs and forced crews to move and reinstall some of their equipment. Water levels were in the high 10th percentile, a 100 to 120-year event, with some days exceeding volumes ever recorded on the Fraser, DFO said.
Crews have now enhanced their tagging efforts before fish enter the Whooshh system with the goal of better understanding fish movement above the slide site. To date 283 chinook and 100 sockeye have been tagged.
Top photo credit: The Whooshh Passage Portal scanner takes detailed measurements of each fish entering the system at the site of the Big Bar landslide on the Fraser River 100 kilometres north of Lillooet, B.C. (Photo submitted by DFO)