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Author Topic: Millions of fish died due to gravel project  (Read 3926 times)


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Millions of fish died due to gravel project
« on: June 24, 2009, 04:50:22 PM »

Millions of fish died due to gravel project
By Larry Pynn, Vancouver SunMay 19, 2009
The federal auditor-general has delivered a scathing report on Ottawa's efforts to protect fish habitat, including a lack of monitoring, enforcement and accountability, and citing Fraser River gravel removal that has killed millions of juvenile salmon.

The report by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development on behalf of the auditor-general finds that Fisheries and Oceans Canada "cannot demonstrate" that fish habitat is being adequately protected.

"The department does not measure habitat loss or gain. It has limited information on the state of fish habitat across Canada -- that is, on fish stocks, the amount and quality of fish habitat, contaminants in fish, and overall water quality."

The report also cites a lack of cooperation between the federal fisheries department and Environment Canada, adding the latter agency needs to develop better policies to pursue Fisheries Act violations, such as pollution that damages fish habitat.

The report also upholds the concerns of conservation groups about the removal of gravel in the lower Fraser River, saying it has killed millions of juvenile fish and failed to meet the province's stated objective of reducing flood risk.

Ian Matheson, director-general of habitat management for federal fisheries, said in an interview last week from Ottawa that his department accepts the report's findings and is committed to a three-year action plan to rectify the department's shortcomings, with regular updates to the office of Commissioner Scott Vaughan.

He said the department needs to prove it is "doing the right thing" and is already moving ahead on two fronts: one involves better coordination of project documents; the other is a risk-assessment model to better categorize the 7,000 projects annually received for assessment so staff can concentrate on the riskier ones.

Mark Angelo, chair of the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, called on the federal government to increase funding to the department to allow it to do a better job, but Matheson said he did not foresee an increase in staffing to address the commissioner's concerns.

Angelo added the department must set minimal standards for compliance and monitoring, noting it "doesn't even require proponents of lower risk activities to notify them. That has to change in future."

The report found that "adequate information on fish stocks to assess project impacts was lacking for a number of the ministerial authorizations for gravel removal."

In 2006, improper construction of a causeway for accessing one gravel removal site resulted in a side channel downstream drying up, exposing salmon nests and resulting in the loss of up to 2.25 million pink salmon.

Rebecca Reid, regional director of oceans habitat and enhancement, said in Vancouver a five-year agreement between Victoria and Ottawa allowed for the removal of up to 2.2 million cubic metres of gravel from the lower Fraser. Just over half of that amount was actually taken, she said.

The agreement has now been extended by one year while new conditions are drawn up to "minimize or avoid impacts to fish and fish habitat for any kind of development activity," including improved monitoring and an assurance of sufficient flow of water during future causeway construction.

Details of the new agreement are expected to be released for public comment in the fall. The next gravel removal is scheduled to take place between January and March 2010.

The study found that "changes in the flood profile were minimal in the removal area and were local to the removal site. Thus, gravel removal would not significantly affect the potential for flooding."

Officials at the B.C. Ministry of Public Safety, which has been involved in the gravel issue, and Environment Canada could not be reached to comment on the report's findings.

Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
another SLICE of dirty fish perhaps?