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Spill risk from Trans Mountain too high for Fraser River wild salmon says new report

Sidney, British Columbia: A report released today by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation highlights the risks posed to wild salmon in the Lower Fraser River from a Trans Mountain pipeline or tanker spill. The report details the year-round presence of different salmon species in the Lower Fraser, the river’s unique features, the nature of diluted bitumen, and the failures of Trans Mountain’s environmental assessment, as well as the inadequacy of the National Energy Board review.

“There is no safe time for an oil spill in the lower Fraser,” said lead author Kate Logan. “Whether as embryos, juveniles or adults, salmon are present in the Lower Fraser River every month of the year.” The report identifies how each species of salmon uses the river and its estuary for migration, rearing and spawning. “A precautionary approach indicates that there is no time when the risk of exposure to spilled oil could be considered low or acceptable.”

The report also highlights how the Fraser River’s man-made features like log booms, kilometers of riprap, armoured shorelines, and developments provide many opportunities for spilled oil, especially diluted bitumen, to be stranded along shorelines. Once on these shores, it is extremely challenging, if not impossible, to recover that oil. “The complexities of the Lower Fraser were not considered by Trans Mountain in their spill modelling, which assumed a simple, straight channel,” said co-author Dave Scott. “Additionally, Trans Mountain did not address the possibility of submerged and/or sunken oil in their modelling or spill response plans despite the river’s high sediment load making this a distinct possibility.”

In addition to the Fraser, the Salish Sea is home to 190 estuaries that support salmon rearing, staging and migration. “These estuaries include five of the top ten estuaries in BC based on their ecological value,” said co-author Misty MacDuffee. “Some salmon are particularly vulnerable to oil spills in the estuary, as they rely on the estuary for extended periods and it may be impossible for them to avoid spilled oil.”

The report comes at a time of ever increasing fisheries constraints and identifies that roughly one-third of the wild salmon populations in the Fraser River are already considered at risk of extinction.

“The status of Fraser wild salmon is a clear indication that economic, social, and environmental considerations are not in balance,” says Chris Genovali, Raincoast Executive Director. “If the federal government does build the Trans Mountain pipeline, it must do so knowing this decision clearly jeopardizes Canada’s greatest salmon river and a fish considered the lifeblood of British Columbia. The only viable precaution to this level of risk is to recognize the pipeline is more a liability than an asset.”

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