Terminal 2 Backgrounder: Impacts to Fraser Chinook salmon

Fraser River Chinook salmon. Photo by April Bencze/Raincoast Conservation Foundation

The Port of Vancouver is proposing to double the size of its shipping terminal at Roberts Bank beside the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. The existing terminal is already a significant presence in the Fraser estuary.  Its 210-acre container terminal connects to the largest coal terminal in North America. A four-kilometre long causeway across the Fraser estuary facilitates truck and rail transit between the terminal and the shore. 

Generally, expansion of this shipping terminal will place further stress on an estuary that has already lost more than 70% of its floodplain habitat.  It will impact habitat and estuary conditions that support a saltwater marsh, juvenile salmon, migratory birds, and many other species. It will also increase vessel traffic through Southern Resident killer whale habitat. 

Raincoast is particularly concerned about the impacts from the terminal on Fraser Chinook salmon and Southern Resident killer whales. These wildlife populations are already considered at risk of extinction by the Canadian government. 

Chinook salmon

The federal review panel concluded Terminal 2 would have “significant adverse and cumulative effects on ocean-type juvenile Chinook salmon originating from the Lower Fraser and South Thompson Rivers” 

The Fraser estuary is critical for the survival of Chinook from the Lower Fraser and South Thompson parts of the Fraser watershed. These populations rely on the shallow, low salinity waters of the Fraser estuary for several months as juveniles, while they feed and grow.

The summer and fall runs of Chinook from the South Thompson and Lower Fraser are the only Chinook runs in the Fraser abundant enough to support some fishing; all others are closed because so few Chinook remain. Chinook from the South Thompson are the only Fraser population evaluated by COSEWIC (Canada’s federal species assessment body) not considered at risk of extinction.  Most Fraser Chinook populations assessed by COSEWIC are threatened or endangered.

The federal review panel concluded terminal expansion would create a larger barrier to juvenile Chinook wanting to migrate into the eelgrass beds on the south side of the shipping terminal. This barrier was first created in 1969 by the construction of a 4 km long causeway across the estuary. By expanding the terminal, juvenile salmon would have to navigate much further around the concrete barrier, forcing them into deeper and saltier water.

In addition to the barrier and the lost habitat caused by another 175 -acre terminal footprint in the middle of the estuary, the expansion requires the widening of the causeway and the loss of more intertidal habitats used by juvenile Chinook. 

Terminal expansion also reduces the size of the estuary, brings more lights and noise, and changes the water circulation and flow. All of these changes are anticipated to affect the survival of ocean type Fraser Chinook that require the estuary to feed and grow for their survival.