WWF Canada Blog:
Fresh Water

News, views and analysis from our team as we work to create solutions to conservation challenges facing our planet.

Liquid Natural Gas terminals and Skeena River salmon are a bad mix

The Skeena Estuary, where the Skeena River meets the Pacific, is one of the planet’s blue engines.  This is BC’s second largest wild salmon producer, home to eelgrass beds and millions of juvenile salmon who travel from the river to the sea and back again each year through this incredible place.

The estuary is also smack dab in the middle of BC’s development boom, with two of BC’s proposed 14 liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants slated for construction there.

Skeena River near Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada. © Mike Ambach / WWF-Canada

Skeena River near Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada. © Mike Ambach / WWF-Canada

New research by Simon Fraser University (SFU) unveiled at our recent Grounding Cumulative Effects in the Skeena Estuary workshop, shows the potential conflict. Their field study data shows that areas proposed for development support some of the highest abundances of some species of salmonids: sockeye, Chinook and coho.

So it’s puzzling that one of the LNG proponent’s representatives said the plant can double the productivity value of salmon habitat. DFO’s ‘no net loss’ policy is commendable but often falls short in practice. Evaluations have shown that compensation habitats can be smaller than required and the actual area of habitat damage or destruction from projects is often larger than DFO has authorized.[1]

It’s hard to imagine how the estuary habitat that is this productive can be replaced, let alone be replaced by habitat that is doubled in productivity.

The above video produced by Skeena Wild, includes footage of speakers that participated in our workshop.  It is estimated that over 88% of the salmon turn right or north when they leave the estuary and travel across Flora Bank to start their journey out to sea. When they return to their natal river, they also cross Flora Bank. As the new SFU report notes: “Flora Bank represents 50-60% of tidal and subtidal eelgrass habitat in the Skeena estuary, and was previously found to be among the most important early marine habitats for pink salmon from the Skeena watershed.”

We’ve focused protection efforts on the estuary for years, commissioning eelgrass mapping studies, mapping shoreline habitat, and participating in environmental assessments, like this LNG proposal. We’re also extending our scientific work on cumulative effects from a coast-wide analysis to map the areas of highest human impact in the estuary, which will help to fulfill one of the SFU report’s recommendations to “identify and target the most important areas for direct conservation efforts” for the juvenile salmon that make their way through the transition from freshwater to marine habitats each year.

Salmon (Oncorhynchus sp) swimming in the waters of the Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada © Natalie Bowes / WWF-Canada

Salmon (Oncorhynchus sp) swimming in the waters of the Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada © Natalie Bowes / WWF-Canada

At the MaPP North Coast planning table, the Skeena Estuary is one of the zones we’ve worked hard to protect  Although Flora Bank falls under the Port Athority of Prince Rupert’s jurisdiction, there is a proposed MaPP protection zone right beside it.  And the MaPP spatial plans are close to being complete. There will be a building block for comprehensive ecosystem based management of this ocean area, informing and eventually linking up with other federal plans, Port plans, and a proposed new network of marine protected areas under development by all levels of government.

To protect the estuary and the wild salmon it supports, we need these ecosystem based management plans to be signed off.  You can help Protect the Great Bear Sea by telling the provincial government that you care about healthy oceans.

[1]  . Quigley JT, Harper DJ Effectiveness of fish habitat compensation in Canada in achieving no net loss. Environ Manage. 2006 Mar;37(3):351-66