Government of Canada invests in a permanent fishway at Big Bar

News release

December 9, 2020

Vancouver, British ColumbiaPacific wild salmon are vital to the ecosystems, the economy, and to the social fabric of the province of British Columbia’s (BC) interior and coastal communities and they are a fundamental part of many First Nations cultures. As part of the continued efforts to remediate habitats and address stock health, Canada is taking further action to restore sustainable, natural fish passage at the Big Bar landslide site.  

Today, the Honourable Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard (DFO), announced the contract award of $176.3 million to Peter Kiewit Sons ULC Burnaby B.C. (Kiewit) to design and construct a permanent fishway at the Big Bar landslide site. With work on the new fishway to begin in the winter of 2020, it is expected to be operational by the start of the 2022 Fraser salmon migration.

Extensive progress was made through the winter of 2019 and into 2020, despite the challenges posed by the remote work site, extreme weather conditions, natural hazards, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Kiewit successfully built access to the work site, cleared significant amounts of debris, blasted boulders, widened the river channel and constructed the “nature-like” fishway. This work was instrumental in improving the migration conditions through the canyon, allowing fish to move upstream at flow levels they were unable to navigate in 2019 and extending the period of in-river migration during high flows in 2020. Alternative fish passage systems supported fish movement until the mid-summer reduction in water flows allowed salmon to migrate past the slide site without assistance.

Despite these efforts, the record breaking high water levels of the Fraser River in 2020, coupled with the barrier posed by the landslide, impacted the migration of already struggling early season salmon. An analysis concluded in July 2020, determined that a fishway is the only long-term solution which can provide reliable fish passage at Big Bar. The new permanent fishway will support the long-term survival of at-risk fish populations.

Until this permanent solution is in place, DFO will continue emergency conservation enhancement efforts for at-risk upper Fraser salmon stocks, in collaboration with Indigenous groups, academics and other experts.


“From day one, the Big Bar response has been a remarkable, all hands-on deck effort. Together, Canada, BC and First Nations have overseen tremendous efforts to help ensure salmon have safe passage. We are thrilled that construction will soon begin on a permanent fishway. This is a long-term, sustainable solution that will not only protect, but help revive, our wild salmon populations in the Fraser River to their former abundance.”

The Honourable Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard

“As we continue our work to address the Big Bar landslide, we are looking for sustainable, long-term solutions to improve Pacific salmon migration in the Fraser River. The permanent fishway is the scientific answer to ensure safe fish passage at Big Bar to support our at-risk fish populations. We look forward to seeing the fishway up and running, and together, our governments will continue to do everything we can to protect and restore our wild Pacific salmon stocks.” 

Terry Beech, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

“Salmon hold a deep cultural significance for First Nation communities across British Columbia. As stewards of the land, we have a responsibility to protect and preserve these fish for future generations. Kiewit and First Nation crews, along with provincial and federal staff have made remarkable progress to support the 2020 migrating salmon. We are pleased that the federal government is now moving ahead with a permanent solution at Big Bar. Our hope is that once this pathway is completed, we will once again see salmon flow in our streams.” 

Chief Roy Fletcher, High Bar First Nation

“The unrelenting dedication and response to the Big Bar landslide is inspiring. All hands remain on deck, working to restore passage, providing additional protection for those stocks most impacted by the slide and ensuring a collaborative tripartite process to achieve these objectives. First Nations have suffered constraints on their fisheries for a number of years due to conservation issues; the slide exasperated those issues and the decision to move forward with a permanent fishway at this time is essential to protecting those stocks most vulnerable and the cultural identity associated with salmon.”

Gordon Sterritt, Indigenous representative, Big Bar Joint Executive Steering Committee and Executive Director, Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance

“The B.C. government is dedicated to ensuring salmon successfully navigate past the Big Bar site on their own, and we will continue to collaborate with our partners to ensure we restore this important section of the Fraser River so salmon can thrive. All three levels of government have been collaborating to restore this site and the permanent fishway will be a significant addition to this ongoing work.”

Fin Donnelly, Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Aquaculture, Government of British Columbia

Quick facts

  • On June 23, 2019, DFO was notified of a landslide at Big Bar, a remote section of the Fraser River, 64 km north of Lillooet, BC. 

  • Approximately 110,000 m3 of debris fell into the river, or enough to fill 45 Olympic sized swimming pools.

  • On Dec. 31, 2019, Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), on behalf of DFO, awarded a $17.6-million contract to Peter Kiewit Sons ULC Burnaby B.C. for remediation work on the site. This contract was amended to $70 million to include additional work onsite to support fish passage during the migration season and DFO fish transport operations.

  • On April 14, 2020, PSPC awarded a US$4.45-million contract, on behalf of DFO, to Whooshh Innovations for the use of a pneumatic fish transport system at the slide site – the Whooshh Passage Portal™. 

  • Alternative fish passage systems implemented to support the 2020 Fraser salmon migration include the Whooshh™ system, a concrete fish ladder, a fish wheel and ‘truck and transport’.

  • In 2020, more than 161,000 salmon, including, Chinook, Sockeye and Coho, migrated past the Big Bar landslide site. Approximately 8,200 were moved by the Whooshh™ system and 1,500 by ‘truck and transport’.

  • From the outset, DFO has worked in partnership with First Nation governments and organizations, and the Government of British Columbia. As work progresses on this critical next phase of work, experts from the three orders of government, supported by stakeholders, non-profit organizations, and academia, will continue to take all steps necessary to reduce the impact of this landslide on future salmon stocks.

Associated links


Jane Deeks
Press Secretary 
Office of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

Media Relations
Fisheries and Oceans Canada 

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