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Government of Canada invests in a permanent fishway at Big Bar

December 9, 2020

Vancouver, British Columbia – Pacific wild salmon are vital to the ecosystems, the economy, and to the social fabric of the province of British Columbia’s (BC) interior and coastal communities and they are a fundamental part of many First Nations cultures. As part of the continued efforts to remediate habitats and address stock health, Canada is taking further action to restore sustainable, natural fish passage at the Big Bar landslide site.  

Today, the Honourable Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard (DFO), announced the contract award of $176.3 million to Peter Kiewit Sons ULC Burnaby B.C. (Kiewit) to design and construct a permanent fishway at the Big Bar landslide site. With work on the new fishway to begin in the winter of 2020, it is expected to be operational by the start of the 2022 Fraser salmon migration.

Extensive progress was made through the winter of 2019 and into 2020, despite the challenges posed by the remote work site, extreme weather conditions, natural hazards, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Kiewit successfully built access to the work site, cleared significant amounts of debris, blasted boulders, widened the river channel and constructed the “nature-like” fishway. This work was instrumental in improving the migration conditions through the canyon, allowing fish to move upstream at flow levels they were unable to navigate in 2019 and extending the period of in-river migration during high flows in 2020. Alternative fish passage systems supported fish movement until the mid-summer reduction in water flows allowed salmon to migrate past the slide site without assistance.

Despite these efforts, the record breaking high water levels of the Fraser River in 2020, coupled with the barrier posed by the landslide, impacted the migration of already struggling early season salmon. An analysis concluded in July 2020, determined that a fishway is the only long-term solution which can provide reliable fish passage at Big Bar. The new permanent fishway will support the long-term survival of at-risk fish populations.

Until this permanent solution is in place, DFO will continue emergency conservation enhancement efforts for at-risk upper Fraser salmon stocks, in collaboration with Indigenous groups, academics and other experts.

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