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Band claims dredging will save fish

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    Band claims dredging will save fish FISHERIES MINISTRY: Government says gravel removal harmful Brian Lewis The Province Sunday, April 01, 2007
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2007
      Band claims dredging will save fish
      FISHERIES MINISTRY: Government says gravel removal harmful

      Brian Lewis
      The Province

      Sunday, April 01, 2007

      When Clem Seymour, newly-elected chief of the Seabird Island Band, was a young boy in the mid-1960s, his grandmother took him on a Fraser River boat ride for what turned out to be one of those memorable lessons only grandmas can give.

      "It was late spring and the water was running very fast," the soft-spoken chief recalled recently on the band's riverfront reserve near Agassiz. "My grandmother turned off the small boat's motor and then told me to listen. From underneath the water you could actually hear the gravel being carried along by the strong current."

      The tale illustrates Seymour's point that the Fraser moves a phenomenal amount of gravel downstream each year -- especially during spring freshet.

      That gravel, which until 10 years ago was regularly dredged from the river, is causing increasingly serious problems -- including reducing the river's depth, which renders dikes less efficient, and redirecting its course, which erodes the river's banks.

      In this band's case, the Fraser's change in direction has washed away about 1,200 acres of its property in the past decade and continues the erosion at a rate of 10 to 12 acres annually.

      The solution, Seymour says, is to return to regular dredging -- but standing between the Seabird Island Band and dredging is the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

      Permits from DFO are required for gravel removal from the Fraser and the band, along with many other river stakeholders, say DFO makes it so difficult that very, very little rock is actually being removed.

      So the river bottom continues to rise which increases the danger of spring flooding.

      While DFO opposes gravel removal on the grounds it destroys fish habitat, Seymour counters: "The DFO doesn't understand fish habitat here. We grew up on this river and we know how it works. When the bottom of the river rises because of the gravel, the shallower water warms up and that kills the fish. Even the sturgeon are leaving this area, but when the river used to be dredged there was no impact on the fish habitat."

      The Seabird chief says a comprehensive band plan outlining the long-term removal of 1.2 million cubic meters of gravel presented to DFO a few years ago wasn't even acknowledged. Nor did DFO respond to my request for an interview.

      Brian Jones, the band's economic development manager, says what is needed is a long-term plan through which gravel is extracted annually and sold to the construction industry to recover costs. The band's land erosion problem would be solved and threats of flooding -- the reserve is not protected by dikes -- would be reduced.

      But as the gravel continues to build on the lower Fraser, bureaucrats continue to twiddle their thumbs.

      And 800 residents on the Seabird Island reserve remain caught between a rock and a hard place.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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