The federal government released drone footage on Sept. 17, 2019 documenting the work done to help migrating salmon that were trapped in the Big Bar rock slide in the Fraser River. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

VIDEO: Drone footage documents work to free salmon at Big Bar landslide

Video shows crews working to remove rocks and wood, and transporting salmon by helicopter

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has released drone footage documenting the work done to help migrating salmon after a disastrous landslide in the Fraser River.

The video includes sweeping views of the Big Bar landslide, about 70 kilometres north of Lillooet, as well as crews making progress to clear debris and capturing salmon to transport them over the slide to their spawning grounds.

The first shots are of a pile of woody debris in an eddy at the base of the slide on July 26 and an overhead view of a beach setup showing how the fish were retrieved.

A shot from Aug. 1 shows a fish wheel being rigged and deployed in the river to catch fish as well.

Tens of thousands of salmon were flown over the barrier by helicopter, a painstaking and expensive process.

Days later, a shot shows salmon trying to make their own way up the river, where more debris had been cleared from the eddy. A closeup shows salmon working their way up to a pool, behind a large boulder.

“They’re trying to migrate around it on either side, but not having any success,” says Mike Hawkshaw, a member of the unified command environment unit, in a voiceover.

READ MORE: Big Bar slide a big engineering challenge for crews trying to move fish

Later, with water velocity and levels coming down, crews began to see successful passage of chinook salmon that they confirmed with tags.

“If you look carefully you can see where salmon are resting in pools and eddys as they work their way up the slide, holding behind rocks,” Hawkshaw says.

The shot shows the size of the salmon compared to the water velocity, the drop and, as they get thrown back into the water, the overall difficulty of the migration.

By Aug. 30, the water level had dropped “significantly” and crews observed that both chinook and sockeye salmon were migrating.

READ MORE: Big Bar slide prompts first-time-ever salmon purchase by four Tsilhqot’in communities

Hawkshaw told Black Press Media that before the videos were released to the public, they were used as a communication tool.

Since the slide is in a remote location and “getting into that area where the scalers are working is pretty unfeasible” unless you are an experienced climber, the videos provided vital information to hydrologists, geologists and engineers off site.

“It provided us a lot of information in a safe manner,” he said. “It really makes it possible for people … to get a good idea of what is going on and how the site is changing day to day.”

READ MORE: Chief calls for state of emergency, fishery closure in light of Big Bar slide

The slide was found in late June. Federal, provincial and First Nations officials have been working to reduce the harm to the river’s significant salmon runs at a shared cost of more than $6 million.



karissa.gall@blackpress.ca

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