The 40-Year-Old Federal Salmon Study That Should Have Killed Pacific Northwest LNG

The report is dated July 17, 1973, and stamped by the Department of the Environment.

Scientists had undertaken a study of fish in the Skeena estuary due to proposals to build a super port in the Prince Rupert area.

The federal government wanted to know: “What destructive consequences could be imparted on the fisheries resource by superport construction?”

So the scientists set out to find out which areas of the Skeena estuary — home to Canada’s second largest wild salmon run  — are most important for fish.

They found Flora Bank, one of the largest eelgrass beds in B.C., is “of high biological significance as a fish (especially juvenile salmon) rearing habitat,” and advised that “construction of a superport at the Kitson Island — Flora Bank site would destroy much of this critical salmon habitat.”

Forty years passed, with the federal government knowing Flora Bank was no place for industrial development.

And then, this Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved the building of a massive liquefied natural gas export port in that very spot — a spot that scientists say would disrupt a complex system that effectively holds Flora Bank in place.

What changed?

“I think the politics must have changed,” said Jonathan Moore, Liber Ero chair of Coastal Science and Management at Simon Fraser University. “All I can say is that as a scientist, the results haven’t changed. In fact, the data has gotten stronger.”

“Out of all the places that you could imagine in the area, it is the worst possible place in terms of risks to fish.”

You wouldn’t know that from reading the report commissioned by Pacific Northwest LNG and filed to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) on May 5, 2015. In that report, engineering firm Stantec argued there will be little to no environmental impact from building an LNG terminal on Lelu Island, next to Flora Bank.

That submission included no field data on fish, yet concluded that “salmon do not use Flora Bank eelgrass habitat for nursery habitat or other life dependent processes.”

Stantec was sent back to the drawing board three times to provide credible science.

The government and the proponent have never even acknowledged that the project is in important salmon habitat.

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