Scientists study impacts of oil spill in B.C. freshwater salmon habitat

Reaseach comes ahead of completion of TransMountain pipline expansion

University of Guelph adjunct faculty member Dr. Sarah Alderman studies salmon in a swim flume to test the ability of the fish. (Photo submitted by University of Guelph)

University of Guelph adjunct faculty member Dr. Sarah Alderman studies salmon in a swim flume to test the ability of the fish. (Photo submitted by University of Guelph)

Researchers are taking a close look at how an oil spill in freshwater habitat will affect the physiology and health of B.C.’s coho salmon.

The University of Guelph study comes ahead of the late-2022 completion of the TransMountain Pipeline Expansion project that will triple the outflow of millions of litres of diluted bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to Vancouver. The research, led by Prof. Todd Gillis and Dr. Sarah Alderman at the U of G’s Department of Integrative Biology, was spurred by public concern of how a pipeline rupture will impact imperilled salmon populations in the Fraser River Watershed.

“It’s an ambitious project,” said Alderman, “but these data are essential for making informed decisions on how to protect salmon, before or after a spill.”

READ MORE: 102 Fraser River estuary species at risk of extinction, researchers warn

Coho spawn in over half of the 1,500 streams in B.C. and Yukon, generally spending one year in freshwater. In northern populations, most juveniles spend two or three years in freshwater before entering the ocean.

With $350,000 in funding from the federal government’s Oceans Protection Plan – Fate, Behaviour, and Effects Initiative, which aims to better understand oil spill behaviour and its biological impacts, the two-year study will determine which life stages of the salmon are most vulnerable to diluted bitumen, whether higher temperatures in contaminated water alter egg development and whether the fishes’ sense of smell, which they use to locate their natal streams, is impaired by exposure to the substance.

Alongside colleagues at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia, the U of G researchers have received $1.2 million in funding over the past six years to address knowledge gaps in early life stages of salmon exposed to diluted bitumen, contributing to a broader understanding of the impacts of contaminants on fish and fisheries.

The group was the first to publish studies describing how even a small amount of diluted bitumen can affect salmon development, and impair their ability to swim.

“So a spill into a salmon-bearing river could be devastating to populations that are already struggling,” Alderman said.

READ MORE: Future value of Trans Mountain pipeline rests on Liberals’ climate plans, PBO says



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

Fisheries and Oceans CanadaSalmon

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Elias Pettersson and the Vancouver Canucks drew a large crowd to the Abbotsford Centre in 2019. Canucks management hopes the crowds return for the planned AHL team this fall, and early returns are positive. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
Canucks: ‘Incredible’ early interest for Abbotsford AHL tickets

Team has had a strong response to both e-mail information and priority ticket lists

Red dot shows location where fisherman was rescued by boater on Friday, May 7, 2021. Other fisher still missing presumed drowned after boat swamped on Fraser River near Vedder/Sumas confluence. Rescued man swam to shore after boat sank, while friend is still classified as missing as of May 10. (City of Chilliwack map)
Fisherman still missing after boat flipped on the Fraser River

One man made it out, other still missing, after anchor got snagged in the Fraser near Chilliwack

Corina Rochon has been working the front lines of the pandemic in the intensive care unit at Abbotsford Regional Hospital. She is also an instructor in the nursing program at University of the Fraser Valley.
Pandemic the most challenging of Abbotsford nurse’s 16-year career

Corina Rochon works front lines at Abbotsford Regional Hospital

Joan Septembre went for a weekend hike at Lindeman Lake, parking next to a vehicle that had two windows smashed in. (submitted photo)
Thieves active at Lindeman Lake and other parking spots along Chilliwack Lake Road

The hiking community is lamenting an uptick in car theft and vandalism as the weather gets nicer

Dario Lopez comes to the Cascades from Madrid, Spain where he played in very competitive junior leagues. (Dan Kinvig/UFV Athletics)
UFV Cascades sign Spanish basketball talent

High-scoring forward Dario Lopez joins team for 2021-22 season

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health, hosts an update on efforts to contain B.C.’s COVID-19 transmission in Surrey and the Fraser Valley and protect hospitals in the Lower Mainland, May 6, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate slowing, 20 more people die

Deaths include two people in their 40s, two in their 50s

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read