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Genetics were collected on juvenile sockeye and Chinook salmon from the Flora Bank region in the Skeena River estuary.
Salmon came from over 40 populations from throughout the Skeena watershed and beyond that are harvested in at least 10 different First Nations territories.
This is at least twice as many First Nations as were consulted during the assessment process. The LNG terminal proposed for the Flora Bank region poses risks to fish and First Nations fisheries throughout the Skeena Watershed.
Previously, this collaborative research team discovered that the Flora Bank region contains higher abundances of juvenile salmon than other locations in the estuary (published in PLoS ONE; link to study).
The letter calls for the use of science to realign the scales of environmental decision-making with the true scales of natural consequences and human rights.
Background materials for media:
Fisheries biologists and leaders from First Nations from throughout the Skeena River watershed and a Simon Fraser University professor.
The Flora Bank region of the Skeena River estuary supports salmon from throughout the Skeena watershed and beyond. Map of the origins of juvenile sockeye and Chinook salmon collected in the Flora Bank region. Visual created by John Latimer, Lax Kw'alaams.
The Skeena River supports the second-largest run of salmon in Canada, but is located between fossil fuel reserves in interior Canada and ocean access to Asian markets.
Skeena salmon are harvested by First Nations, Alaskan and Canadian commercial fisheries, and recreational fisheries.
The Skeena River watershed is 54,432 km2, larger than the country of Switzerland.
Every year, between 100 million and 1 billion juvenile salmon from throughout the watershed migrate out through the estuary.
There are several fossil fuel pipelines proposed through the Skeena watersheds with off-loading terminals in the estuary, including the Pacific NorthWest LNG project, by Petronas, in the Flora Bank region.
“The new data from the estuary is evidence that the proposed LNG terminal could pose risks to our fish and fisheries. Lake Babine is the largest of the Skeena sockeye lakes, with millions of adult sockeye returning in some years.” Donna Macintyre, co-author on the paper and Fisheries Director for Lake Babine Nation.
"Our field crews have captured tens of thousands of juvenile salmon in the areas proposed for development." Charmaine Carr-Harris, Skeena Fisheries Commission, co-author on Science letter and the lead author of the PLoS ONE paper.
“Salmon don’t care about boundaries. Degradation of salmon habitat can impact ecosystems and people as far as salmon can swim.” Glen Williams, Gitanyow First Nation, co-author of the letter.
"The Flora Bank region of the Skeena estuary is like Grand Central Station for salmon." Allen Gottesfeld, Skeena Fisheries Commission, co-author on the letter.
"This research offers an opportunity for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to use science to get the scale right so that they consider the true vast risks to environment and culture as well as economy." Jonathan Moore, SFU, lead author of letter.
"We live in the headwaters of the Skeena and Fraser River watersheds where salmon are our way of life. We expect the environmental assessment process to take into account both scientific and traditional knowledge to assess the significance of impacts on our rights as Takla people. We applaud this research and expect follow up from Canada, BC, and proponents of LNG projects to meaningfully address our concerns." Chief John Allen French, Takla Lake First Nation, unaffiliated with study.
Terminals for fossil fuel export are proposed for rearing habitat of salmon in the estuary of the Skeena River. Even though salmon are migratory, current environmental decision-making is ignoring potential impacts on distant fisheries. Photo: Tavish Campbell.
Sockeye salmon, perhaps the most economically important salmon species in the Skeena watershed. Salmon are caught by commercial, recreational, and First Nations fisheries. In large rivers like the Skeena, salmon often swim hundreds of km upstream to the stream or lake where they will spawn. Photo: Jonathan Moore.
First Nation fishermen netting salmon at Moricetown Falls, a traditional fishing location in the Skeena watershed that is over 300 km upstream from the estuary. As with other upriver First Nations fisheries, proposed developments in the Skeena River estuary are currently not considering potential impacts on this fishery. First Nations have fished for salmon in the Skeena for over five millenia. Photo: Jonathan Moore.
Researchers sampled young salmon, such as these, in the area proposed for development in the estuary and did genetics on fin clips to identify the location where the fish were from. The study discovered that the area proposed for development provides habitat for over 40 populations of locally-adapted salmon. Photo: Tavish Campbell.
Salmon sustain cultures, economies, and ecosystems. Here is a young grizzly bear eating a sockeye salmon. Negative impacts on salmon habitat may be transmitted to ecosystems and cultures upstream by salmon. Photo: Jonathan Moore.
Young salmon rearing in the Skeena River estuary. Photo: Tavish Campbell.
Flora Bank region of the Skeena River estuary. Photo: Tavish Campbell.
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