Will planting eelgrass help salmon?
My aerial photo of the Fraser River Estuary
A guest post from Doug Massey
Port of Vancouver looking to plant eelgrass beds at Roberts Bank.
So the Port of Vancouver says it will replace the eelgrass beds that they initially destroyed in 1970 when they built a un-bridged causeway over Roberts Bank and a 20 hectare (49 acre) manmade pod. They added another pod in 1983, and again in 2010. This makes it a problem nearly 50 years in the making.
Further; all of this was done over the objections of a Federal Government report in March of 1979, called: “Report of the Environmental Assessment Panel; Roberts Bank Port Expansion” which stated and I quote; “The Panel recommends that approval for the full expansion as proposed not be granted”.
They specifically stated;
“Any proposed expansion go forward that it be tested on a hydraulic model, where currents and wave action can be measured in order to determine a suitable design to avoid excessive erosion of eelgrass beds and other benthic habitat.”
This environmental destruction throughout Port of Vancouver history has been known for decades, but nothing has ever been done.
Worse the report also notes that a large portion (80%) of the salmonid rearing grounds in the Fraser River Estuary has already been alienated and that any further losses should not be allowed.
They concluded also that certain mitigation measures, such as eelgrass transplants, and provision of new habitat, have not been proven to be effective, and cannot be accepted as compensation for existing fisheries habitat.
In 2010, the B.C. Government scientists reported their concerns about ongoing channel erosion between the Tsawwassen Ferry and Roberts Bank Port Terminals and claimed reports were “grossly incomplete” and their cumulative effects were being discounted.
The Roberts Bank Port Expansion together with the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, have virtually destroyed the natural eelgrass beds by physically obstructing the natural flow of water and sediments.
This in turn forced the migrating salmonoids away from the eelgrass shelter area and forced them to be exposed to the natural predatory fish in the Strait of Georgia, thus causing a high mortality rate. This mass destruction of fish stocks has never been investigated or studied by the Department of Fisheries & Oceans.
Now in order to compensate for the loss of the salmonid and crab eelgrass, and marshland resulting from the construction of Terminal 2 at Roberts Bank, the Port of Vancouver in October of 2016, proposed to create 43 hectares of manmade eelgrass and marshland immediately north of Steveston’s south arm jetty, next to the Sturgeon Banks.
Then on February the 13, 2017 they proposed to plant 4 hectares of eelgrass near the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, in an attempt to recreate the eelgrass that was lost over 50 years ago, when the ferry terminal was built.
How important was this eelgrass system 50 years ago?
Quoting again from the 1979 government report:
“The Fraser River Estuary and associated transitional wetlands comprise of one of the most dynamic and productive ecosystems in Canada. The ecosystem supports a large and diverse community of organisms.
All links of the food chain are present from plankton, benthic invertebrates and estuarine vegetation, through to the complex life forms such as fish, birds and mammals.”
We must not let these proposals of mitigation by the Port of Vancouver fool us into a false sense of security, by trying replace, or imitate eelgrass that was naturally created by an undisturbed flow of sediment down the mighty Fraser River. Perhaps they should remove the training walls they have installed all along the Lower Fraser River (Trifurcation) and allow the Fraser River to flow in its natural channel and carry and deposit the sediment to its natural destination along the river and create the marshlands and eelgrass beds at its mouth where it will create the most good.
One cannot overstate the need for a full scale hydraulic model of the Fraser River Watershed be constructed, governed by an independent Agency that would determine what the cumulative affects each and every proposal would have on the Fraser River Estuary.
In conclusion: If the Port of Vancouver is truly serious about retaining the Fraser River’s Ecosystem they should step back from their proposals to further expand Roberts Bank Port with Terminal 2, and stop advocating for the removal of the George Massey Tunnel and the dredging of the river deeper so they can industrialize the whole of the Lower Fraser River. After half a century, the destruction of the mighty Fraser River has to stop now while there is still something left to save.
Submitted by: Douglas George Massey, Delta, B.C.
With the help of dedicated friends.