Lina Azeez: More salmon habitat in the Fraser floodplain under severe threat

June 27, 2022

By: Lina Azeez

Strawberry Island, in the floodplain of the lower Fraser River is in imminent danger

Birds eye view of Strawberry Island with the proposed dike drawing

Birds eye view of Strawberry Island with the proposed dike drawing

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.

The road built without a permit, into the slough causing a major fish obstruction for thousands of juvenile salmon and other fish.

The road built without a permit, into the slough causing a major fish obstruction for thousands of juvenile salmon and other fish.

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.” 

Narrow culvert for "fish passage" installing into the road built into the slough between Nicomen and Strawberry Islands. Even the most athletic fish will not be able to access the pipe to pass through to the other side. Dump truck in the background.

Narrow culvert for “fish passage” installing into the road built into the slough between Nicomen and Strawberry Islands. Even the most athletic fish will not be able to access the pipe to pass through to the other side.

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.

Fill being placed on the riparian edge of Strawberry Island. Over the course of 3 years the owner has permission to bring in 189,000cu/m of fill to build a private dike.

Fill being placed on the riparian edge of Strawberry Island. Over the course of 3 years the owner has permission to bring in 189,000cu/m of fill to build a private dike.

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.

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Lina Azeez: More salmon habitat in the Fraser floodplain under severe threat

June 27, 2022

By: Lina Azeez

Strawberry Island, in the floodplain of the lower Fraser River is in imminent danger

Birds eye view of Strawberry Island with the proposed dike drawing

Birds eye view of Strawberry Island with the proposed dike drawing

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.

The road built without a permit, into the slough causing a major fish obstruction for thousands of juvenile salmon and other fish.

The road built without a permit, into the slough causing a major fish obstruction for thousands of juvenile salmon and other fish.

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.” 

Narrow culvert for "fish passage" installing into the road built into the slough between Nicomen and Strawberry Islands. Even the most athletic fish will not be able to access the pipe to pass through to the other side. Dump truck in the background.

Narrow culvert for “fish passage” installing into the road built into the slough between Nicomen and Strawberry Islands. Even the most athletic fish will not be able to access the pipe to pass through to the other side.

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.

Fill being placed on the riparian edge of Strawberry Island. Over the course of 3 years the owner has permission to bring in 189,000cu/m of fill to build a private dike.

Fill being placed on the riparian edge of Strawberry Island. Over the course of 3 years the owner has permission to bring in 189,000cu/m of fill to build a private dike.

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.

Share This Story!

Stand with us to defend wild Pacific salmon

Stand with us to defend wild Pacific salmon

12 Comments

  1. Lynne Brown June 27, 2022 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    Is there a petition available?

    • Anna Kemp July 7, 2022 at 2:25 pm - Reply

      Not a petition but there is a letter writing tool linked here in this blog. Thanks Lynne!

  2. Rebecca Christensen June 27, 2022 at 7:57 pm - Reply

    Stop selling the soul of this country.

  3. Daryl Dertell June 28, 2022 at 3:52 pm - Reply

    Who gave the permission to bring in this 189,000 cu meters of fill and where did than agency think it would be used for. I suppose once it floods and it will someday we will be buying another valuable piece of farm land.In the midst of all the talk about flooding this seems a stupid idea and then of course the lost rearing habitat for the salmon should be an issue as well. Daryl

  4. David Cunningham June 28, 2022 at 4:54 pm - Reply

    We have plundered the Fraser River. We need to restore this river, every way we can, to encourage wild Salmon!

  5. Marian Folinsbee June 28, 2022 at 8:45 pm - Reply

    This kind of selfish ,greedy , panicked type thinking is not nessessarily wish thinking . It is short sighted and not thought through. It is destroying an extremely important ,nursery grounds for desperately needed salmon populations to try and save the already abused ,poisoned stocks of dwindling salmon runs largely due to Fish Farms , infestations of lice ,poor habitat and loose foreign fishing practices. WE ARE LOSING OUR SALMON !!! WE Know about the floods that drowned the blueberry plants . Thats also sad .But it is not as dire for the world to lose blueberries temporarily , as it is for the World to Lose our ‘ ‘W I L D ” SALMONS PERMENANTLY .

  6. Anne June 28, 2022 at 10:35 pm - Reply

    Please leave strawberry island alone.

  7. Ben Barclay July 4, 2022 at 11:45 pm - Reply

    Thank you for taking this on.

    Good luck with the new MINISTRY of Corporate RESOURCE Extraction STEWARDSHIP on our LANDS and WATER, and its Minister of Political Ladder Climbing, on her way to become BC Premier by 2032 “or bust”.

    Humans are dumb. Building on floodplains is like throwing nitroglycerin around inside a bomb shelter.

  8. Jackie July 18, 2022 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    The last thing we need in the lower mainland is more cranberry or blueberry farms. We need to protect the fish habitat. Period. This not only affects the salmon, it affects the insects and amphibians alike that live in these estuaries. Enough is enough. Time for the government to step up to the plate.

  9. Marie Janousek February 19, 2023 at 8:45 pm - Reply

    A shorsided personal approach without any consideration for fish. Not very smart.A good work to do the report, thank you. Majka j.

  10. J May 2, 2024 at 2:44 pm - Reply

    It looks like work will start soon to repair the habitat damage, there are construction signs on the road entering the island now. Is there any public info available about it?

    • Meghan Rooney May 9, 2024 at 9:53 am - Reply

      Plans are in place to begin restoration after freshet this year.

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