Scene of the Mount Polley mine tailings spill.

Estimated 1.5 million sockeye bound for fouled Quesnel Lake

Mount Polley mine tailings spill raises fears for Fraser River salmon

An estimated 1.5 million migrating Fraser River sockeye salmon are destined for Quesnel Lake, which has now been contaminated by the Mount Polley mine tailings pond spill.

The Quesnel system sockeye make up a major portion of what’s hoped to be a record run this year, according to Craig Orr, executive director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

“This is one of the greatest environmental disasters we’ve had on the Fraser,” Orr said. “Some of the effluent will be getting in the Fraser. The big question is how concentrated, how harmful it will be. Some of these compounds have short term impacts and some have much longer term impacts.”

While the Quesnel Lake stocks are among the Fraser’s most abundant, Orr is particularly concerned that other much weaker stocks that spawn in other tributaries of the Fraser could be harmed.

“People have to be concerned about not just what it means for the returning fish but for the juveniles rearing in the lake right now,” he said. “We don’t know if it’s going to accumulate in their bodies or potentially affect their olfactions, their ability to find their home waters.”

Resident fish at risk include threatened bull trout and plentiful rainbow trout.

The huge spill of tailings effluent tore down Hazeltine Creek, which is where endangered Interior coho salmon are supposed to spawn in a few weeks.

Gord Sterritt, executive director of the Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance, said the group, which represents 23 First Nations from Williams Lake to the Fraser’s headwaters, had already raised concerns that planned releases of effluent into the creek by mine operator Imperial Metals might harm the coho.

Chinook salmon also spawn near the outlet of Quesnel Lake at the Quesnel River.

“Those fish will be holding or just about to enter the spawning grounds pretty quick,” Sterritt said. “We’re pretty concerned about what the toxic elements are going to do those fish. And then there’s the scouring of the debris pile that is potentially going to be moving down the lake and into the river.”

Contamination that reaches the mainstem Fraser could affect fish spawning hundreds of kilometres away, such as in Stuart Lake near Fort St. James.

Sterritt said he’s fielding calls from First Nations as far downstream as Lillooet that are alarmed about the potential impact on their food fisheries.

“People are already talking about not fishing because they don’t know what the toxin levels are going to be in those fish when they ingest them.”

Imperial Metals president Bryan Kynoch described the effluent as “relatively benign.”

He told a news conference Tuesday the effluent nearly meets drinking water standards and the main threat to fish is from the silt, which he said is settling rapidly.

Sto:lo fishery advisor Ernie Crey said there remains widespread concern in aboriginal communities.

“Eventually, this stuff will wend its way into the Fraser,” he said.

Orr noted the spill came just three days after provincial government approval of the new KSM gold mine near the headwaters of the Nass River.

“It’s the same type of mine structure with a lot of tailings placed very close to fish-bearing waters.”

 

Just Posted

Northern B.C.’s Ridley coal terminal sold, Canada divests, First Nations to own portion

Ten per cent of shares transferred to the Lax Kw’alaams Band and the Metlakatla First Nation

Skeena mainstem closed to recreational sockeye

Escapements expected to be below 800,000 threshold

FOI data confirms rural drivers discriminated against, former Telkwa mayor says

Analyzed rural postal codes paid just over 2.5 times more in premiums than they received in claims

Curbside recycling to be cancelled in the District

This is a result of unrealized commitments from program partners and unsustainable costs to operate the service, council stated

Photos: 4th annual Binche Fishing Derby a success

Dave Birdi, economic development officer of Binche said the event was their largest ever

VIDEO: B.C. MLA Michelle Stilwell takes first steps in nearly 30 years

‘It actually felt like walking. It’s been 27 years… but it felt realistic to me’

Report of dead body in B.C. park actually headless sex doll

This discovery, made at Manning Park on July 10, led police to uncovering two other sex mannequins

Grand Forks fire chief found to have bullied, harassed volunteer firefighter: report

WorkSafeBC, third-party human resources investigation looking into allegations complete

Dog recovering after being drenched in hot coffee, B.C. man charged

Man was taken into custody, charged, and released pending a court date

Taekwondo instructor, 21, identified as B.C. bat rabies victim

Nick Major, 21, an instructor at Cascadia Martial Arts in Parksville

Science expedition to Canada’s largest underwater volcano departs Vancouver Island

Crews prepared for a two-week research mission to the Explorer Seamount

B.C. shipyard to get one-third of $1.5 billion frigate-repair contract

The federal government has promised to invest $7.5 billion to maintain the 12 frigates

Worried about bats? Here’s what to do if you come across one in B.C.

Bat expert with the BC Community Bat Program urges caution around the small creatures

B.C. on right road with tougher ride-hailing driver rules, says expert

The provincial government is holding firm that ride-hailing drivers have a Class 4 licence

Most Read