Yesterday Chilliwack Progress published an article regarding the gravel extraction that is currently taking place on the Fraser River. With the snow pack being below seasonal norm, one must wonder what the true objective of this operation is, not that gravel removal would have made a difference if there was a threat of flooding. What is more troubling is the fact that this permit, approved by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, actually allows harmful alteration of fish habitat and fish kill, which completely contradicts the agency’s mandate.

Gravel permit leaves fish at risk: biologist
By Robert Freeman – Chilliwack Progress – January 22, 2008

A permit approved by federal fisheries for the largest in-river gravel removal operation in B.C. history opens the door to a fish-kill similar to one that destroyed millions of pink salmon hatchlings at a smaller site in 2006, says John Werring, a biologist with the David Suzuki Foundation.

He said the permit basically authorizes unlimited harmful alteration of fish habitat, and the construction of a causeway to the gravel removal site at Spring Bar in the Fraser River, if a bridge can’t be built. It was a causeway blocking water to nesting sites near Big Bar that killed pink salmon hatchlings in 2006.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen one of these,” Werring said about the Spring Bar permit. “I really don’t know what is going on here.”

Authorization permits normally place limits on how much harm can be done to fish habitat.

Werring also said the planned bridge to the Spring Bar site was also approved without proper engineering.

“We can’t for the life of us see how DFO approved such a crossing,” he said. “We have grave concerns” not just for fish habitat but for the truck drivers.

Federal fisheries area director Mel Kotyk did not return phone calls from the Progress yesterday.

A “river watch” launched by environmental groups is keeping an eye on the Spring Bar site, but they admit there is little they can do now to stop the removal short of a court injunction. But no one seems willing at this stage to risk a failed injunction, which would result in liability for the cost of holding up the multi-million dollar project.

Frank Kwak, president of the Fraser Valley Salmon Society, said the Spring Bar operation is located in the main stem of the river where the water is moving “significantly faster” than the site at Big Bar.

It was safety concerns for truck drivers at Big Bar that led to the decision in 2006 to scrap plans for a bridge and build a causeway, which led to the “dewatering” of nesting sites.

“It’s another Big Bar situation all over again,” Kwak said.

Kwak also said he was told by a senior fisheries official that pilings for a smaller bridge at a removal site near Harrison Bar was not proceeding because “they were not sure of the impact of driving the piles” on nearby fish nesting sites.

“They were convinced at Harrison Bar it would disturb a lot of (nesting sites),” he said. “If there’s shock impact there … there’s an equivalent impact of shocks up at Spring Bar, but at Spring Bar they’ve decided to let it go anyway.”

Kwak and Werring both continue to doubt the flood protection benefits of the Spring Bar removal, despite statements by provincial and Seabird Island Band officials.

“The environmental community is not out to stop gravel removal in the Fraser River, if it has flood protection values,” Werring said.

According to the BC River Forecast Centre, the outlook is “favourable” that last year’s flood conditions in the Fraser River won’t be repeated this year. The snowpack in the Upper Fraser is 97 per cent of normal for January 1, “well below” last year’s level of 128 per cent. Low elevation snow is generally near or slightly above normal.

What can you do about it? Beside voicing your concerns to the local MPs, remember that there is currently an audit being conducted on DFO. Let Madame Sheila Fraser know about this mismanagement, otherwise we will all be fishing for species other than pacific salmon in the Fraser Valley in the years to come.