Take me up the river

A few weeks ago, it was an afternoon river tour aboard the M.V. Native Paddlewheeler, to mark the launch of the FBC’s Lower Fraser River Collaborative Initiative. The Collaborative will take an in-depth look at the lower most heavily used stretches of the Fraser, and the boat was full of leaders looking for ways to keep the Fraser healthy. One of the boat tour guests,  MP Fin Donnelly the official Fisheries and Oceans critic demonstrated his commitment to this issue long ago by twice swimming the entire length of the Fraser, British Columbia’s longest river, a journey of  1,375 kilometres.   Another special guest, MP and former Liberal leader Stephane Dion, was intrigued by the splashing and jumping spawning salmon which were on view as the boat made its way along.

(c) Linda Nowlan/WWF-Canada
The Fraser is a Canadian Heritage River,  designated in 1988 due to its’  exceptional natural, cultural and recreational values. The FBC recently published a ten year retrospective celebrating  the Fraser’s first decade as a heritage river The Fraser: A Canadian Heritage River (10-Year Monitoring Report 1998-2008) . It’s an interesting read: for example, did you know that the White sturgeon are  the largest freshwater  fish in North America,  reaching more than 6 m and 600 kg in size  and living for over  150 years? There are  four “stock groups” of  white sturgeon in the  Fraser Basin:  Nechako, Upper Fraser, Middle Fraser and Lower Fraser. Areas in the Fraser  like the Matsqui Channel and Hatzic Eddy  provide  important feeding, rearing, and overwintering habitat for these fish and need extra protection.
Here are a few other sobering facts about the Fraser: according to our own technical report,  approximately one of every 10 vertebrate species in the  Fraser Basin is “red-listed”;  The Fraser River supports 5 species of Pacific salmon,  30 species of other fish, and 87 more species in its  estuary; fishing in the Fraser Basin is worth over $300 million per  year; and, the Fraser River delta supports the highest densities of  wintering birds in Canada.

The  Canadian Heritage Rivers system is a great voluntary program. However, being listed doesn’t give  rivers like the Fraser  any additional legal protection. Our approach is different than the US which has a more protective law called  the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act ,  enacted in 1968  with the purpose of  preserving free-flowing rivers.  If a US river is designated under that Act as wild, the most protective designation, then its’ essential characteristics can’t be changed by development or water usage.
The Fraser is a place to bring home our work on water. This year our priority is to secure a new provincial law for BC that includes protection for water for nature. This brochure, A New Water Act for BC sets out our goals. We’re working to change the rules to keep the Fraser River , and all of BC’s other rivers healthy .