Landslide blocks Fraser River causing salmon closure notice

Published: September 6, 2019

Chinook Salmon Photo by Shutterstock/Bryan Faust

On Friday, August 30, the Tsilhqot’in Nation declared a closure notice on fishing for salmon. This comes after a state of emergency was announced by the Tsilhqot’in Nation earlier in the summer when boulders from a nearby landslide blocked the Fraser River, preventing salmon from travelling upstream to their spawning grounds.

“This is just north of the Big Bar ferry,” says Randy Billyboy, fisheries manager for the Tsilhqot’in National Government. “There’s a big chunk of this little mountain there. Probably one-third of that top part slid off and went into the river.”

During mid-July, when salmon were migrating to the spawning ground, spring runoff caused the Fraser River, narrowed by the landslide, to rise to 10 metres in depth. The current rushed past the boulders at an incredible speed, making it nearly impossible for salmon to migrate upstream.

On a poor year, Billyboy says the minimum number of salmon they would see making it to the spawning ground along the Chilko River would be 100,000. “But average would be closer to 600,000 to 1.2 million for sockeye,” he says. A recent survey by helicopter, however, revealed that only 700 sockeye and 26 chinook salmon had made it to the spawning ground.

To combat the issue, the Tsilhqot’in Nation fishing department joined forces with the federal and provincial governments during the high waters in early July. To get the salmon past the landslide obstruction, the government began helicoptering fish upstream. Billyboy says that initially they were able to fly 300 salmon a day, but they are getting faster. “Now it’s up to 800 per day,” he says.

The government also has land transportation in place, driving fish over the mountain to increase the daily number. As of now, with the waters having dropped and the current eased off, there are estimates that close to 30,000 salmon have passed the landslide on their own, with approximately 60,000 having been transported.

The numbers, however, are still low, forcing the Tsilhqot’in government to declare the closure notice on salmon fishing. The effect of the closure has rippled through the community as salmon fishing and wild game hunting are major sources of sustainability for the Tsilhqot’in Nation.

This closure notice is compounded by the fact that in 2017, a wild fire tore through the Chilcotin area, killing wild life. Since then, a closure notice on moose hunting has been in effect and the number of deer has dropped significantly. Billyboy adds that “There’s a steelhead closure as well. Nobody’s been fishing steelhead for the past three years.”

As for salmon, the Tsilhqot’in National Government is doing all they can to help with the fish’s migration. But they’ll have to wait and see whether it’s enough. “We’re hoping the numbers will increase,” Billyboy says.

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