Alexandra Morton: Are Fraser sockeye downstream from Mount Polley spill safe to eat?

The latest Canadian mine tailing pond spill into a B.C. waterway occurred last week near Likely, B.C. Prior to August 4, Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley gold and copper mine tailing pond was contained behind a gigantic wall of sand. There were warnings by employees and government that the tailing pond was over-filled and could rupture. The warnings were ignored and now much of this toxic material is in Quesnel Lake.

Quesnel Lake flows into the Fraser River, which flows throughout British Columbia, through the city of Vancouver into the Strait of Georgia.

This spill is not over. Material from the tailing pond continues to escape, lake bottoms have currents that will continue to move the mountain of sediment into the water column. This incident involves far more than the drinking water of the town of Likely.

The reason for tailing ponds is to keep toxic waste produced by mining contained. There are now mining tailings spread all over the spill site and satellite images show the tailings moving towards the Fraser River.

I am writing to suggest British Columbians look at this in a realistic light, because this affects all of us.

Heavy metals, such as those found in these mine tailings tend to bioaccumulate in living organisms. They can also kill insects which young fish feed on. Quesnel Lake is an important fish nursery and rears a large part of B.C.’s wild salmon. Fewer bugs mean fewer salmon, toxic bugs mean toxins in salmon.

I have been contacted by First Nation colleagues asking if the salmon in the Fraser River are safe to eat. It is a breach of government responsibility that every First Nation along the river has not already been contacted with test results. I understand the First Nations Health Authority is doing testing. We all need to see those results ASAP.

I have received pictures and reports from several places downriver from the Imperial mine spill of salmon with their skin peeling off. Is this exposure to acid? Guessing is dangerous and we need answers.
The situation has forced Cayoose Creek Band chief Michelle Edwards, Xaxli'p chief Darrel Bob, and Tsk’way’laxw chief Francis Alec to close all fishing for their communities. This is leadership that takes responsibility for human health.

I have spent 30 years trying to protect wild salmon from farm salmon disease. As a result, I am very familiar with government smoke and mirrors when a business activity threatens the health of British Columbia.
Simply put, the escape of millions of cubic metres of mine tailings into the Fraser River should concern all Canadians whether they live downstream of a mine or not, because we are a society that cares about the fate of our children.

The urgent question many people are asking: “are the salmon from Fraser River dangerous to eat?”

Comments (15) Add New Comment
Yes, and oops! Company may not have environmental insurance!
And Byng Giraud, the former Vice President of this company, is the new vice president for the proposed Woodfibre LNG Facility in Howe Sound - Yikes...
Rating: +4
Just thinkin'
Maybe everyone should just let these ones swim on by and go to their spawning grounds without catching and killing them.
Seems like that would be the best thing to do for the fish.
I wonder why someone who claims to be a champion of wild fish is always so focused on eating them?
Telling people to eat them instead of farmed ones for instance?
Wouldn't the opposite be better?
Rating: -55
Ben Jakob
Someone thinks waaaay too highly of herself.
Rating: -26
Lee L
Thanks to ALexandra Morton for pointing out to us what the Alaska fishing ndustry would love us (and everyone) to hear.

Before answering the question posed in this article, perhaps she could answer this question:

If it's sea lice from salmon farms that are the reason for low Fraser salmon counts, as she has been telling us for a decade or more), how is it that the massive returns (30 million ) in 2010 managed to escape that fate?
How is it that the beginnings of this year's run ( children of that 2010 run ) are being reported now as 'in Georgia Straight' in similar massive numbers?

This is a huge anomalous data point that she has yet to explain as far as I know.
Perhaps the sea lice have found a new host? or have been killed by 'climate change'?

Apparently we dont actually know what is going on with these fish, so speculating about the effects of the Polley event is just that ... speculation to stir up concern based on thin or, in this case, nonexistent data. Well that never stopped her before so....

But hey, the ALaskans are happy.

Rating: -24
We'll never know from 'our' government.

Obama did not hesitate to open the Gulf of Mexico to shrimping, and everyone knew that was wrong given just the Corexit they dumped. It is all about optics to politicians. Just like with BP and Obama, Christy Clark will look stupid if she comes down hard on her friend.
Rating: +13
Hundreds of people and animals along the sockeye route of the Fraser have ancestral and current interest in the viability of these fish. Including Ms Morton. Accusation that she is "always so focused on eating them" indicates that you would do well to familiarize yourself with her work before attacking it.
Try telling the bears not to catch the salmon.
Rating: +17
Corporate shills
are out in force today, eager to deflect and derail from an important warning.

Thank you, Alexandra, for an insightful look into the threat that unregulated corporations have on our drinking water and food stocks.

Rating: +20
Dr. Woody, Anchorage Alaska
The fact salmon are showing up wtih their skin peeling off is of concern as the fact that copper is one of the most toxic elements to aquatic life. slight increases of just 2-10 parts per billion (one part per billion is a drop in an olympic sized pool) can wipe out a salmons ability to smell which is how they home, identify predators, prey kin and mates. I would like to know what the copper concentrations in the water were before the spill and after. Just because it supposedly meets water quality standards does not mean no impact. And no, Alaskans are not celebrating this disaster, we merely point to it as what can happen should the much larger of Pebble Mine be developed in Bristol bay headwaters.
Rating: +28
Josephine Fletcher
We need to all understand that all the waterways of British Columbia are interconnected. May I put it more clearly. All the waterways of North America are interconnected. Overland and far below the surface. It is an amazing artery system that has this wonderful gift that all of us can not take for granted. Simply water sustains all life on this wonderful planet. Mining, fracking and extracting deep into the planet for oil upsets simply the ways of water necessary for drinking. Polluting waterways with toxins from mines is lethal to organisms. It is criminal to ruin forever pristine waters that salmon travel to for a final spawning that carry's on generations of fish and sustains so many life forms.
Rating: +11
Not to take anything away from the great work that Morton has done, but like Lee L I'm also interested in how the Sockeye managed to elude the sea lice problem in 2010 and 2014. I'm sure there are many theories on it and hopefully she'll spearhead the research in to it and not hide her head in the sand due to politics. I don't see salmon farming disappearing anytime soon, and if the health of the wild salmon is our main concern then every aspect needs to be examined rationally.

PS skin peeling off during spawning it not unusual, according to my observations on my 5th grade field trip to Goldstream on Vancouver Island.
Rating: +7
Charlene B
Corporate shills indeed. Those that are trying to discredit Alex Morton either work in the fish farming or mining industry. It's getting old and tired listening to their garbage.
Rating: +8
Just thinkin'
"I have received pictures and reports from several places downriver from the Imperial mine spill of salmon with their skin peeling off. Is this exposure to acid? Guessing is dangerous and we need answers."

Pretty classic fearmongering from Morton.

I've looked closely at the picture of the fish in question, and have come to a couple conclusions:

- The skin is dry and wrinkled
- The flesh underneath appears "cooked", noticeably flaky and different in colour to that of the rest underneath

My guess would be this fish was placed on the deck of an aluminum boat after being netted, one which has been out in the sun heating up all day, and that has resulted in the fish being partially cooked on one side.

This doesn't really suit the whole "tailings/acid/toxic" idea, so I'm sure all those out there with tinfoil instead of critical thinking hats will probably just ignore my observations.

Rating: +3
Jim O'Brien
No need to shoot the messenger here: the lady profiled in the article is doing a pretty good job of making herself irrelevant by having attempted to fear monger for years now, and not being right once. Pretty interesting that there are still people there trying to defend her and support her allegations.

Give someone enough rope and...
Rating: +2
Andy Robertson
Ya bunch of buffoons, the fraser river sockeye run is as far away from sea lice as we get. The run doesn't pass filthy open pen farms therefor no lice and healthy returns. check your geography.
Rating: +4
Peter Tallio
It is good to see so many of Morton's detractors commenting here. She must be doing something right.
Rating: -2
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