Strawberry Island, in the floodplain of the lower Fraser River is in imminent danger
Recently, my colleague Roxanna went out to Strawberry Island to scope out reported damage to fish habitat. Strawberry Island is one of only five remaining large mid-river island complexes in the stretch of the Fraser River known as the Heart of the Fraser.
Help defend wild Fraser River salmon by demanding a stop to the destruction of vital habitat on Strawberry Island.
In this area, between Hope and Mission, the river widens, dropping gravel carried down from the upper river and canyon to create a massive section of gravel-bed river that offers highly productive habitat for all species of salmon, endangered sturgeon, eulacheon and a variety of birds and mammals. The Heart of the Fraser, once filled with thick stands of cottonwoods and complex braided channels, is a haven for salmon at every stage of their life cycle. Pinks spawn in the mainstem, while juvenile Chinook and coho tuck into side channels to grow and feed before they head out to sea. The Heart of the Fraser is rich with abundance because the yearly spring freshet spreads valuable nutrients out across the floodplain shores and islands.
Strawberry Island, is a large (95.4 ha) and important floodplain island and it is in imminent danger of being removed from the floodplain forever. This spring, the owners of Strawberry Island started bringing in truck loads of fill to build a private dike so that it can be ditched, drained and converted into cranberry fields. How is this bad for salmon? During spring freshet, Strawberry Island naturally floods, becoming an essential refuge for young salmon to shelter and feed as they make their way down the river to spawn. Think of it as a highly protected all-you-can-eat buffet for baby salmon during one of the most vulnerable moments of their lives.
When Roxanna went out to Strawberry Island, she saw a road had already been built right into the slough between Nicomen and Strawberry islands to allow dump trucks and heavy machinery access onto the site. Because the road was sitting in the channel, fish passage and water flow was cut off at all times except during freshet when the Fraser River is full of water. A narrow, 2-foot-wide pipe was inserted into the road to move water and fish, but was too small and poorly placed for juvenile salmon to be able to use.
According to the Dike Maintenance Act (DMA), “Private dikes are not regulated under the DMA and approvals are not required for works related to private dikes. However, work related to private dikes may require authorizations and approvals under other pieces of legislation such as the Water Sustainability Act (WSA) and the Fisheries Act.”
This essentially means the government is trusting the landowner to do the “right thing” however, to date, no permits have been requested under any provincial or federal acts. To date, the land owner has not applied for a permit under the WSA section 11 for works in and about a stream; an unacceptable action that needs to be set right by the Province. The Province needs to initiate a stop-work order and ensure the proponents remove the road built into the slough. They also need to assess the viability and consequences of building a dike on this island.
Thinking back on the dramatic and tragic floods of November, 2021, the agricultural sector was highly affected because much of the established arable land is in the floodplain. In-river islands, including Strawberry Island, not only provide much needed fish habitat, but also play an important role in mitigating flooding. Blocking off this large island with a massive dike will increase flood risk for other areas in the floodplain. The river needs more room to flood safely, not less. It is shortsighted to remove any more land from the Fraser floodplain given the likelihood of increasing volumes of floodwater in the coming years.
On finding out about this issue, we submitted a report to the Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship and emailed staff information and pictures of the issues. An investigation has been opened and we are awaiting to hear their decision. To support the decision makers in taking action please send them a letter sharing your concerns about Strawberry Island and the destruction of this important fish habitat.