Urgent action allows thousands of salmon to pass through Bridge Rapids
Nov 2, 2023|in,
A collaborative effort near Lillooet has given thousands of salmon the chance to migrate upstream to spawning grounds after being stuck at a drought-stricken rapids section.
In late September, Xwísten (Bridge River Indian Band) community members observed thousands of salmon – including Chinook, coho, pink, sockeye, and steelhead – stuck below a rapids section in the Fraser River canyon, north of Lillooet.
Due to drought conditions and low river levels, the Bridge Rapids were impassable. The decades-old fish ladder salmon typically use to migrate through this area sat well above the water line and was unusable for fish. The salmon were recorded jumping with great effort, trying to migrate through, and unable to make it past the rapids.
The community’s concern for these fish initiated a massive effort to move thousands of stranded salmon by hand past the impassable area to help move them along their migration route.
The emergency funding from the Pacific Salmon Foundation, First Nations Fisheries Council of B.C., Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), along with support from Xwísten, Xaxli’p (formerly known as Fountain Band), and the Province of British Columbia, helped further address the fish passage issue with urgent measures enacted this week.
With added expertise from consultants, contractors, and BC Wildfire Service, crews have been onsite this week creating passage opportunities for salmon around the rapids by dropping massive sandbags by helicopter to create a temporary passage pathway and adapting a natural rock passageway with a spider excavator to make it passable for fish.
Slide the arrow to see a before and after photo of sandbags being placed.
After two days of site work, most of the stranded salmon have been able to pass through the area.
“Timely action was critical for this urgent salmon migration impediment issue – the salmon were stuck and they needed our help,” says Jason Hwang, Vice President of Salmon Programs, Pacific Salmon Foundation. “We need to maintain the natural diversity of our salmon populations. These later-timed salmon migrate after the peak of summer heat which may give them an advantage as our salmon populations cope with the impacts of climate change – these later-timed fish may be critical to future resilience of salmon in the Fraser.”
The Pacific Salmon Foundation has activated time-sensitive drought response projects across the province since August, from B.C.’s interior watersheds to Vancouver Island streams to help salmon as they struggle to survive in the face of extreme drought conditions.
Much-needed rainfall this week has provided relief to B.C.’s ecosystems that have been suffering from extreme drought since early summer, yet the volume of precipitation is not sufficient to compensate for the prolonged rain deficit in many salmon-bearing watersheds. As of Oct. 19, 44 per cent of regions in B.C. were still experiencing Level Four of Five drought – the most severe drought rankings.
This year, British Columbia experienced one of the most extreme periods of drought in recorded history, leaving streams parched, and major systems such as the Fraser River and its tributaries at all-time low flows during a critical time in the salmon lifecycle when tens-of-thousands of migrating salmon are returning to their natal streams to spawn.
Early indications of severe drought conditions in June prompted the Pacific Salmon Foundation to convene a working group with the Province of B.C., DFO, and technical experts with the goal of identifying and activating innovative solutions to help both juvenile salmon and returning adult spawners survive the extreme, unfavourable conditions.
With funding support from the Province of B.C. kickstarting a Climate Adaptation fund at PSF this spring, more than a dozen urgent projects have been completed in B.C. to help combat the adverse impacts of climate change on salmon. The Bridge Rapids project, led by Xwísten and DFO, has been the most complex to date due to the challenging terrain and high numbers of fish. DFO’s matching emergency funds of $100,000, made possible by the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative, will support the efforts of collaborating partners to protect Pacific salmon affected by this year’s unprecedented drought conditions at Bridge Rapids. Special thanks to the First Nations Fisheries Council of B.C. and Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance for funding support to advance this urgent challenge facing salmon.