Skip to main content

Stuart LePage, of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, sprints to place a salmon in a vessel to be lifted by a helicopter and transported up the Fraser River past a massive rock slide near Big Bar, west of Clinton, B.C., on July 24, 2019. Parts of a pneumatic fish pump dubbed the salmon cannon have arrived at the site of a massive landslide along British Columbia's Fraser River, where Fisheries and Oceans Canada expects some salmon to begin arriving soon.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Parts of a pneumatic fish pump dubbed the “salmon cannon” have arrived at the site of a massive landslide along British Columbia’s Fraser River, where Fisheries and Oceans Canada expects some salmon to begin arriving soon.

Six 160-metre tubes of different sizes are being suspended along the canyon wall above the river, said Gwil Roberts, director of the department’s landslide response team.

A fish ladder that’s nearly complete would attract salmon, guiding them into a holding pond before they enter the fish pump and tube system that will take them up river from the slide, said Roberts.

Story continues below advertisement

The pump system is leased from a Seattle-based company and includes a scanner that measures the size of the salmon in order to send them into the appropriate tube.

Roberts said the largest tube is about 25 centimetres in diameter and the system is more gentle than the “salmon cannon” label suggests.

A deceleration mechanism would slow the salmon down and deposit them gently upstream after the fish have travelled about 20 metres per second for 20 seconds, he said during a briefing on Monday.

The pump and other measures underway at the site, including a series of boulders arranged to create pools where salmon can rest, are designed to minimize the need to handle the fish, said Roberts.

“This reduces stress to the fish,” he said, adding that transporting fish by trucks equipped with large water tanks is a last resort this year.

Tens of thousands of salmon were transported by truck and helicopter after the slide was discovered late last June.

Roberts said spring water levels are still too high for salmon to navigate the series of boulders and pools that make up a “nature-like fishway.”

Story continues below advertisement

The site is being prepared and the fish pump will be installed shortly to aid the salmon until water levels drop, he said.

There have been no reports of salmon arriving yet, said Roberts, but Chinook and other early returning salmon are expected soon.

The landslide sent 75,000 cubic metres of boulders and debris into the Fraser River north of Lillooet, creating a five-metre waterfall and a major obstacle for salmon returning to their spawning grounds.

Roberts said mortality was “extremely high” last year because fish had been arriving at the base of the waterfall and trying to swim upstream for at least a month before the slide was discovered.

“They were battering themselves and getting stressed,” he said. “This year we have the plan in place to move the salmon to ensure they can get across the slide site and we are very hopeful we will have very, very low mortality.”

The fish have already travelled about 375 kilometres from the mouth of the Fraser River before arriving at the slide and some continue another 600 kilometres, said Roberts.

Story continues below advertisement

He said the ultimate goal is to establish a natural fish passage at the site.

“You’re looking at the destruction of salmon stock if we don’t do something here. If we don’t help, if we do not facilitate or make fish passage happen, then you will see the disastrous effects to those stocks.”

Roberts said a hatchery program is also in place if need be, which means some salmon could be captured and their offspring reared before being reintroduced into the wild, depending on the arrival of different salmon species.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has pointed to warming ocean waters, habitat degradation, disease and other threats as factors that are contributing to the decline of many wild Pacific salmon stocks and species.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies