As the barge pulls away, it’s hard to believe that it has been four years since we started our work out here on the Steveston Jetty back in early winter 2018. Our initial phase created three breaches in the jetty to let water start flowing and creating the channels that will ultimately aid in accomplishing our objective: juvenile salmon passage. We then came back to each of the breach locations and further excavated the breaches so they are connected on almost all tide levels, and then placed the necessary rock to ensure the jetty and its new openings would be stable long into the future. After all was done, we had removed over 7,870 tonnes of material and placed 3,278 tonnes of rock, creating three 50 meter wide breaches in a jetty which has interrupted the natural movement of salmon for over a century.
Only a few years ago, I would have never imagined that I would spend so much time wearing a hard hat on a barge or looking over engineering drawings with engineers and construction managers. When we first heard of the Coastal Restoration Fund back in 2017 we were happy to see the investment in salmon, but restoration wasn’t something Raincoast did…or so we thought. We had been active in the estuary for two years of juvenile salmon monitoring and knew there was a lot of work to be done in the estuary, but we are biologists, not engineers. However, after a pivotal meeting with Fisheries and Oceans Resource Restoration Unit staff, we jumped at the opportunity to conduct a major connectivity restoration project in the estuary and began working away on our proposal. A few months later and sure enough, we got the funding!
About the restoration project
This project has been the largest connectivity restoration project in the Fraser Estuary in decades, in an environment that has been highly disconnected by various jetties and other man made structures which make life difficult for juvenile salmon. These barriers disconnect important habitats for juvenile salmon, forcing them directly from freshwater areas to deep saline waters, bypassing the brackish sand and mud flat areas they rely on for acclimation to salt water. As part of our project, we have monitored juvenile salmon at our breach locations over the last three years as they have been developed, and ever since the first notches were made we have seen high levels of juvenile salmon passing through the breaches. In particular, we have seen high numbers of juvenile Chinook salmon, the main target of our restoration efforts as they have been shown to rely on estuary habitats for a crucial growth period before continuing their migration to sea. Fraser River Chinook salmon are of significant conservation concern and this project is part of a suite of investments in restoration in the estuary as part of Fisheries and Oceans Coastal Restoration Fund.
Just as this project is wrapping up, we are moving on to our next target, the North Arm jetty. Similarly as with the Steveston jetty, long ago in the early 1900’s a channel was dug in the North Arm of the river to improve navigation, and an accompanying jetty was constructed to hold the channel in place. Starting this fall, we plan to create a similar series of three breaches in the North Arm jetty over the next three years, and will continue to monitor all of our breaches for juvenile salmon movement.
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