Future of Fraser River's 2nd largest sockeye population unclear 3 years after mining disaster

Sockeye impacted by the tailings dam breach at Mount Polley returning to spawn next year

The tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., released millions of cubic metres of metals-laden sand, contaminating lakes, creeks and rivers in the region. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

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When the dam at the Mount Polley mine collapsed in August of 2014, it spilled 24 million cubic metres of toxic waste into Quesnel Lake, destroying important spawning beds and forcing an estimated 1.5 million spawning sockeye to swim through polluted waterways.

Now, the future of the second largest sockeye run on British Columbia's Fraser River is in question and the federal fisheries critic is slamming the federal government for its lack of response.

The spill resulted in a local state of emergency in the Cariboo Regional District and a precautionary water ban was put in place.

"We need a full investigation. We need action. We need the law to be upheld," said federal NDP fisheries critic Fin Donnelly. "We need the Fisheries Act restored and we need restoration to happen to this area and to those communities."

Quesnel Lake supports all six species of salmon found in British Columbia as well as important trout sport fisheries. (The Canadian Press)

Impacts on fisheries unclear

Three years after the spill, the impact on Quesnel Lake sockeye is still unclear. The population spawns on four-year cycles, meaning the offspring of the fish that spawned immediately following the dam's failure will return to the lake next summer.