By Andru McCracken

A helicopter lifts fish to release them above the 5 metre waterfall created by a landslide at Big Bar near Lillooet while crews work to build a second fish wheel (shown above), transported from Kitsumkalum First Nation in NW BC to assist in catching fish. /SUBMITTED

A massive landslide north of Lillooet is having an impact on salmon returns in the Robson Valley. If you haven’t spotted salmon spawning along the local streams and rivers, you aren’t the only one.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s official fish count on Swift Creek usually tallies 400 adult salmon; this year they counted only three adults.

Miwa Hiroe gives interpretative talks on the chinook salmon cycle at Swift Creek, close to the Valemount Visitor Information Centre.

“Three salmon in optimal ratios”¦ that would be barely enough to have one nest fertilized,” Hiroe said.

Salmon are now able to traverse the landslide thanks to geotechnical work done at the Big Bar Landslide and Hiroe holds out hope that some of the fish now making the journey and those that have been transported from below the falls by helicopter will make the trip successfully.

Curtis Culp, a naturalist living in Dunster, predicted that the region’s salmon would make it over the five metre waterfall and while some have, he said it is much worse than he expected.

“It’s pretty darn grim. I know they are showing up in some of the streams. Tete Jaune has some now and the Holmes River; but it’s pretty darn grim,” he said.

Culp said local Chinook salmon are big and strong, but the waterfall created by the landslide proved too strong for most.

“It’s bound to have happened years and years past, and they are still here,” he said. “I hope for the best.”

Swift Creek Watershed Society President Bruce Wilkinson said the return eight years from now will likely be low.

“The average age for fish returning here is eight years from their parent’s spawning,” he said.

He said it’s still possible there could be a good return in 2027 because some fish from last year may reach fertility later, or some from next year may reach fertility early.

RMG File photo 2019

Hiroe said salmon have a huge role on the landscape as a source of ocean nutrients.

“Trees have been recorded growing three times as fast that are growing near salmon spawning areas,” she said “They are a cargo of fertilizer going up the river on their own.”

Hiroe said people who come for the talks continue to be inspired by the incredible journey of the fish.

“It’s amazing how people feel connected to that story and the cultural connections to salmon,” she said.