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

New Seven Sisters replacement confirmed

Mental health facility will have 25 beds, up from 20 in current facility

Convicted animal abuser to return to B.C. court May 21

Catherine Jessica Adams is facing a breach of probation charge

Healthcare travelling roadshow aims to inspire high school students across B.C

Over 2,000 youth in different rural communities will be visited through this project

Gallery: Project Heavy Duty inspires students into it’s 32nd year

The event is a collaboration between SD91 and industry in and around Vanderhoof, Fraser Lake and Fort St. James

Madison Scott’s mother hosts event to keep search for her missing daughter alive

Eight years ago, the Vanderhoof teenager disappeared, and the RCMP continue to chase leads

Rescuers finally persuade Eiffel Tower climber to come down

The official said the man was ‘under control and out of danger’ on Monday night

LETTER: Fletcher ‘blurs reality’ on B.C. union public construction

Bridge, highway projects awarded to companies, not unions

Killer of Calgary mother, daughter gets no parole for 50 years

A jury found Edward Downey guilty last year in the deaths of Sara Baillie, 34, and five-year-old Taliyah Marsman

Terrace hospital’s business plan approved

Health Minister’s announcement opens door to construction phase

Federal government funds millions to help B.C. police spot drugged driving

Many police departments have expressed wariness about using the only government-approved roadside test

Judge: Mississippi 6-week abortion ban ‘smacks of defiance’

The new law would prohibit most abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected

Oil companies, 24-cent gap between B.C., Alberta to be focus of gas price probe

Premier John Horgan called the spike in gas prices ‘alarming’

Motorcycle deaths spike 50% since 2017

Riders were most likely fatally crash on the weekends compared with the rest of the week

Mother of accused charged in death of Surrey teen girl found in torched SUV

Manjit Kaur Deo charged with ‘accessory after the fact’ in 2017 death of Surrey teen

Most Read