Nisga’a fisheries officials are keeping a close eye on a section of the Kwinageese River, a tributary of the Nass River, to make sure salmon along that route continue to be able to reach their spawning beds.
Fisheries technicians confirmed July 15 that a small portion of a heavy cement blockade —important because it raises a pool just below a waterfall created by a rock slide, allowing the salmon to jump the falls and continue travelling upriver—has been washed out. Before the blockage was detected and fixed in 2011, salmon weren’t able to get over the approximately 3-metre high rock barrier and the situation ultimately led to closed fisheries and ongoing restrictions so that the Kwinageese salmon could recover.
But for now, although about five of the 44 thousands-pound heavy cement blocks have been washed out and water levels at the site are below average, fish are still getting through.
“It appears the fish are making their way up, we just had a report that some Chinook and Sockeye have gone past, so I’m really pleased with that,” Nisga’a Fisheries and Wildlife Department (NFWD) director Harry Nyce Sr. said.
Nyce said his team anticipated future movement at the canyon site when the cement blocks were initially placed in 2011.
“We knew it was going to move and that the site was steep and nature wasn’t going to help us,” he said. “The water is powerful, very powerful. It looks like it’s a small tributary, but it’s not, it’s pretty powerful when it gets going.”
That fluidity means the department will most likely continue to use cement blocks for the near future.
“I’ll be reporting to our executive that we’re requiring some help to do some more work, either place some more blocks there or whatever else our technicians want to do,” said Nyce. “It appears right now we’re short of resources, it would be nice to have something placed back in … but our resources aren’t there.”
The 2011 initiative cost $80,000, he said, noting helicopter time took up most of that budget.
For now, NFWD, the Prince Rupert federal fisheries branch, and the Smithers provincial fisheries branch are working to monitor the site, with a flight scheduled for Aug. 5 to measure the pool’s capacity, according to an update from Nisga’a fisheries biologist Richard Alexander last week.
“If fish can pass at low water levels, no immediate actions will take place and a more permanent structure will be pursued in the future. If fish passage is compromised, 10‐15 cement blocks will be placed at the site to increase the pooling capacity by the end of August,” read the update, which noted all permits have been approved for the work to go ahead, ensuring a swift timeline for the fix if necessary.