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British Columbia Crews radio tagging salmon to track survival beyond Fraser River waterfall created by landslide

Fisheries and Oceans Canada officials and members of the B.C. Wildfire Service move salmon in a temporary holding pen on the Fraser River before being transported with a helicopter past a massive rock slide, near Big Bar, west of Clinton, B.C., on July 24, 2019.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Up to 1,000 salmon are being radio tagged in British Columbia’s Fraser River to help biologists track how the fish survive through and beyond a massive rock slide in the river.

The slide, discovered last month, has created a five-metre waterfall in a remote location northwest of Kamloops and officials now believe it occurred last November.

About 80 people are working each day to create a natural passage for salmon through the barrier, while they also explore alternative ways to transport the fish past the waterfall, including by helicopter, fish ladder and fish wheel.

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In a joint statement, the provincial and federal governments say the monitoring of the salmon will eventually provide crucial information on the survival success rate once the fish have reached their spawning grounds.

Tagged salmon are also being moved upstream past the slide to monitor how an experimental transport by helicopter affects their movement.

While helicopters have been successfully tested to move a small number of fish above the slide site, the province says it’s not a practical way of moving the millions of fish who are expected to pass the site along their migration route in the coming weeks.

Several salmon species migrate along the Fraser River, including chinook, sockeye, coho and pink. The chinook and sockeye are migrating up the river now, but the bulk of the fish are expected to reach the slide site in the coming weeks.

Premier John Horgan visited the incident command centre in Lillooet on Wednesday and lauded the co-operation he saw between various levels of levels of government and local communities, including First Nations.

Some of those relationships were built during the record-breaking wildfire seasons in 2017 and 2018, he says, adding that this year’s quieter wildfire season means emergency resources can be put toward the salmon rescue efforts.

“The public has an expectation that [effort] happens all the time, sadly it doesn’t. But in this case, thank goodness it’s happening,” Mr. Horgan said, adding that he believes the “glue” bringing people to work together is a shared passion for salmon.

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“They’re so iconic to British Columbia, so critical to all of us – our forests, our animals, our Indigenous communities as well as recreational fishers, commercial fishers and people who just like to come and watch the salmon spawn. It’s part and parcel what it is to be a British Columbian.”

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