Mt. Polley mine breach clouds salmon fishery

The latest test results say the fish aren't affected, but local fishers are staying away.

by  Monica Lamb-Yorski

Williams Lake Tribune

Latest test results show the Mount Polley tailings spill is not affecting this year’s sockeye salmon in the Fraser River, according to the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council.

“We received our latest report yesterday on the first group of tested fish and there doesn’t seem to be any contamination of heavy metals,” NSTC fisheries manager Ernest Kroeker told the Tribune Monday.

And with the Quesnel sockeye run being better than it’s been in a decade, Kroeker said the sad thing is many Shuswap didn’t go fishing this year because of fears regarding the Aug. 4 tailings breach.

“There were a fair number of our members fishing at the Gang Ranch bridge and it was very busy, but some of our other traditional spots were not.”

Those other spots include the Sheep Creek Bridge, Xat’sull Heritage Village, Rudy Johnson Bridge and Farwell Canyon.

The run has definitely peaked already but will continue on until the first week of October, as the fish move up the Fraser River to the Quesnel River and into Quesnel Lake and its many tributaries including the Mitchell River and Horesfly River.

What isn’t known, Kroeker said, is the longterm implications as the juveniles will spend the next year growing up in Quesnel Lake.

“Those are the ones who could be most affected by environmental changes,” Kroeker said.

“They will then go out to the ocean and return four years from now.”

Meanwhile the Tsilhqot’in confirmed the First Nation Health Authority has also said the fish tested are safe, but tribal chair Chief Joe Alphonse said he is telling members there is no guarantee.

“Some have been fishing, but not many,” Alphonse said.

“Some of them are freezing the fish they’ve caught to wait for more results.”

He’d like to see 200 fish tested, he added.

At a meeting of Tsilhqot’in chiefs held Monday, no firm decisions were made around the fishery.

“It’s still an issue of being able to trust the tests,” he added.