Restoring Gill Bar: A Collaborative Effort for Conservation and Cultural Preservation

Our ongoing commitment to the protection and preservation of the ecologically diverse gravel reach of the lower Fraser, widely recognized as the Heart of the Fraser, has fueled our involvement in various crucial campaigns. Noteworthy achievements include preventing the construction of bridges to Herrling and Carey islands, halting the development of Strawberry Island, suspending a substantial gravel mining project in the Vedder River, and the closure of Gill Bar.

Gill Bar’s History of Irresponsible Use

Gill Bar has long been subject to high-impact recreational activities such as mud bogging, heavy ATV use, shooting, and large bonfires. These activities posed significant threats to the soft silt of the Fraser River and its sensitive ecosystems.

Gill Bar was used by recreational vehicles to “mud bog” before it was closed due to conservation concerns

Responding to First Nations pressure and strong public concerns, Fisheries and Oceans Canada mandated the closure of Gill Bar to public vehicular access in the summer of 2022, creating an opportunity to explore restoration and rehabilitation initiatives.

Importance of Gill Bar

Gill Bar, known as Xá:y Syí:ts’emílep in Halq’eméylem, is an important fishing ground for local First Nations, supporting traditional practices like set-net and drifting. The area is crucial for all five Pacific salmon species and the endangered White Sturgeon. Acknowledging its cultural and fishing significance, Watershed Watch is thrilled to collaborate with the Pelólhxw tribes, the Stó:lō Resource and Research Center, the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance, and other partners on a three-year project aimed at restoring the Gill Bar area.

The Pelólhxw Tribes

Comprised of Sqwá (Skwah), Xwchíyò:m (Cheam), and Kwaw’Kwaw’Apilt Na, the Pelólhxw tribes have maintained ancestral access to the Fraser River and Gill Bar, supporting traditional fishing activities and fostering culturally significant connections to the river. The Fraser River, especially its salmon, serves as more than a source of sustenance; it embodies the essence of identity and life as Salmon People, evident in practices like the First Salmon Ceremony.

Goals of the Xá:y Syí:ts’emílep Restoration Project

The Xá:y Syí:ts’emílep restoration project has multiple objectives. These include the conservation and protection of key habitats and fish spawning areas, the integration of nature-based solutions for flood protection, the preservation of First Nations rights to traditional harvesting activities, and the development of a long-term co-management plan that facilitates recreational opportunities with minimal environmental impact.

Aquatic and terrestrial biologists are actively collecting data on habitat and habitat uses to gain a comprehensive understanding of how the bar functions and what future restoration efforts might entail. Simultaneously, we are preparing to engage neighbours and the broader community to gather their perspectives, values, and visions for the bar. This project also provides a valuable opportunity to support Pelólhxw goals by engaging and mentoring First Nations youth, fostering their interest in careers related to environmental stewardship or the natural sciences.

Stay tuned for more updates in the winter as the project swings into full gear!