LNG projects threaten Skeena River salmon runs, study says

Two liquefied natural gas projects are planned just south of Prince Rupert. There's (at least) one problem: Pacific Northwest LNG and Prince Rupert LNG would be located in the Skeena River estuary, which a Simon Fraser University study shows is a habitat critical to the future of the area's big salmon runs.

Researchers captured juveniles from all salmon species throughout the estuary in 2007 and 2013. Their study, published in PeerJ PrePrints in April, notes they found the "highest abundances" of chinook, coho, and sockeye in one or both years in "areas proposed for development".

According to the study, the Skeena River is a "large watershed with high salmon biodiversity". Estuaries are important because "these habitats support juvenile salmon". Indeed, the study concludes that the Skeena estuary is a "key migratory bottleneck that aggregates high salmon biodiversity". 

How might these LNG projects impact juvenile salmon passing through their development areas?

"These migrants could be affected by habitat loss as a result of removal of foreshore habitat and dredging, reducing connectivity between freshwater and marine habitats following the installation of causeways and berths, and eventually the effects of pollution and propeller wash from tanker traffic. Cumulative degradation of estuarine habitats could erode the diversity, resilience, and productivity of salmon from the Skeena River and beyond," the study states.

The study also "highlights the challenges of relying on proponent-funded research to assess potential environmental impacts of proposed developments".

The researchers' conclusion: "These fish support extensive commercial, recreational, and First Nations fisheries throughout the Skeena River and beyond. Our results demonstrate that estuary habitats integrate species and population diversity of salmon, and that proposed development in these areas will threaten the fisheries that depend on these fishes."

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