LNG site risks fish loss, says biologist

Mark Cleveland was one of more than 130 scientists to call on the federal government to reject Lelu Island as an LNG site

Though he can’t put a specific number on how many salmon could be wiped out by the Pacific Northwest LNG terminal proposed for Lelu Island, a local salmon expert with 20 years experience in the area says the threat to local fisheries was underrepresented in a recent report.

Mark Cleveland, the head fisheries biologist at the Gitanyow Fisheries Authority and technical advisor for the Skeena Fisheries Commissions, was one of more than 130 scientists  to call on the federal government to reject  Lelu Island as an LNG site despite a Canadian Environmental Assessment Authority (CEAA) report which says the affect on salmon populations would be insignificant.

“It’s just pretty clear that if you get 20 times more fish in this one location than anywhere else in the Skeena estuary, it’s got huge value and it should be taken into account in any decision-making and right now they are not,” says Cleveland.

Like many who are opposed to having a terminal on Lelu Island, he is not opposed to an LNG industry, but says the environmental review was flawed in green-lighting the location near a prime salmon rearing area.

“I work for a lot of the First Nations upriver and they rely heavily on their Section 35 [constitutional] rights [to fish the rivers] and for their sustenance and their livelihood and if they lost that, it would have huge implications. That’s just from a rights perspective, but then there are commercial fisherman who have relied on these stocks for 100 years here in the north and there may be short term gains in many jobs for the next five years of the project build but then after that, what?”

He said studies have found DNA from salmon families from every nook and cranny of the Skeena watershed showing up in the fish that congregate on the two square kilometre tidal area called Flora Banks near the proposed liquefaction and shipping terminal.

Cleveland said that the federal review ignores other important studies and relies too heavily on studies done by the company’s subcontractors.

“Do you want to risk the long-term health of the salmon stocks for the Skeena?” he asks.

The CEAA report will be considered leading up to a final decision by the federal government to accept or reject the project. If accepted, any number of conditions could be attached.

Pacific NorthWest LNG submitted its comments on the CEAA report March 4 and on March 11, public comments closed.

The company did refute a CEAA finding that its project would have an effect on the area’s harbour porpoise population. It said there was alternate habitat available.

It also says the rise in national CO2 emissions from the project would be offset by reductions in other countries converting from coal to the imported natural gas.

More than 30,000 comments were also submitted from those opposed and those in favour of the project.

(With files from The Northern View in Prince Rupert.)