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

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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?”

Alexandra Morton is the executive director of the Department of Wild Salmon. The Department of Wild Salmon links together the experience and knowledge of hundreds of salmon groups, First Nations, university departments, and labs.

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Just thinkin'

Aug 12, 2014 at 3:46pm

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?

Ben Jakob

Aug 12, 2014 at 4:48pm

Someone thinks waaaay too highly of herself.

Lee L

Aug 12, 2014 at 4:57pm

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.

Answer

Aug 12, 2014 at 5:00pm

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.

Sarah

Aug 12, 2014 at 5:16pm

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.

Corporate shills

Aug 12, 2014 at 5:29pm

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.

Dr. Woody, Anchorage Alaska

Aug 12, 2014 at 5:56pm

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.

37 9 Rating: +28

Josephine Fletcher

Aug 12, 2014 at 10:21pm

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.

Confused

Aug 13, 2014 at 8:39am

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.

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