Helicopters, heavy machinery and nearly 200 workers are working frantically to free millions of salmon trapped by a landslide in western Canada.
The crews of the government of the area have worked incessantly along the banks of the Fraser River to remove debris after a landslide, discovered at the end of June, created a 5-meter high impassable waterfall.
Each year, several species of Pacific salmon – sockeye, chinook, rose and coho – travel along the Fraser River of British Columbia to breed. But the newly formed barrier has prevented fish from accessing critical reservoirs for spawning.
The excavation weeks have proved successful: already 12,000 salmon have gone through carefully constructed canals. And 44,000 salmon – a good 3,000 a day – were transported by helicopter.
"Nothing is off the table unless it is determined as not feasible. We are looking at all the options," he told reporters Michael Crowe of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The team hopes to continue moving the fish on trucks after the road has been rebuilt, as well as developing a scale for the fish.
The emergency crews have strongly supported the local indigenous communities and their knowledge of salmon deposition to help gather tens of thousands of fish.
"The technical knowledge of the first nations in catching fish – from the crews of beach fishing boats to a second fish wheel – are the basis of the operation," the government said in a press release.
Muddy, fast-moving water has made it difficult for officials to estimate the number of salmon trapped beneath the landslide. In previous years, Crowe said, millions of salmon would pass through this section of the Fraser River. Numerous fish have been equipped with radio localization collars to provide a clearer picture of how many have successfully moved upstream.
The landslide and the frantic effort to eliminate it highlight the barriers – natural and of human origin – that the salmon faces each year.
In much of western North America, hydroelectric dams have blocked critical spawning routes. In recent years, the plight of displaced salmon has led to increasingly dramatic attempts to move fish, including releases at low altitude from aircraft and the "Salmon Cannon" – movies that have recently become viral.
Efforts in British Columbia to release trapped salmon come at a difficult time for fish: recent data suggests that red salmon has fallen 75% in the last century in Canada. Last week, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans confirmed the terrible state of the Sockeye when it warned that this year only 600,000 people would be generated, as the normal return of five million claimed. Chinook salmon, also stranded in the river, is also in danger.