$1M fines possible in effort to save rare salmon
18 Oct. 2018
With the clock ticking on the rare inner Bay of Fundy salmon, the federal government is casting a larger protective net to preserve the endangered species.
But the most crucial area tied to survival of the salmon won’t be covered.
A special critical habitat order is expected to soon come into effect that would make it a crime to destroy area in 10 river watersheds. Three of the areas are in New Brunswick – Point Wolfe River, Big Salmon River and Upper Salmon River.
Some of these watersheds were already protected by a 2010 order for the areas within Fundy National Park. But Big Salmon River wasn’t covered at all by the previous order.
“The order would afford the minister of Fisheries and Oceans the tool needed to ensure that the critical habitat of the iBoF salmon is legally protected and would enhance the protection already afforded to the iBoF habitat under existing legislation to support efforts towards the recovery of the species,” reads the order.
Possible destructive activities highlighted by government in its recovery strategy include infilling for watercourse crossings (pipelines or bridges, etc.), dams or culverts, dewatering, any run-off or dumping that could change water quality (be it the pH or temperature, etc.) in a habit-changing duration, frequency or concentration.
“Determining whether any particular activity will result in destruction of critical habitat would depend on the extent in time and space, intensity and specific nature of the activity and the adequacy of associated mitigation measures,” reads the strategy.
The fines for any destruction can range from $50,000 to $1,000,000 depending on if the offender is a person, non-profit or corporation.
The inner Bay of Fundy salmon are genetically unique to the eastern area of the Bay of Fundy, according to government reports, and are believed to rarely swim beyond the bay or Gulf of Maine. At one time, government reports estimate, there were 40,000 fish in the water. In 2008, there were fewer than 200. The situation is so dire that 20 years ago, the federal government began removing some of the remaining fish to stock a live gene bank, which has preserved the unique genetics across three generations.
Speaking with the Telegraph-Journal last month, though, a Fisheries and Oceans scientist said the live gene bank can only preserve the genetic identity for so long before degrading. He estimated the bank might only work for another 50 years.
The federal government, province and the fish farming industry have been spending untold amounts to maintain the live gene bank, a special farm on Grand Manan, research and dropping thousands of new in-house reared salmon – via truck and helicopter – into rivers.
Scientists involved in the recovery project told the newspaper this summer that the rivers are healthier, sustaining the young fish and seeing more returns from the bay. But the mortality rate in the marine environment remains high, and the cause is uncertain, or as one scientist involved put it, a “big black hole.”
The enhanced habitat protection order acknowledges recovery hinges mostly on increased marine survival, not river habitat.
The order won’t cover the marine waters, but if marine mortality rates decrease the order states recovery would be assisted by the “quantity and quality of freshwater habitat.”
“Therefore, recovery efforts in a greater number of rivers may become increasingly important for long term population self sustainability, if marine survival increases,” reads the order.
The order will come into full effect once published to Canada Gazette. Notice will then be provided to the province, indigenous groups and stakeholders.
Once in place, any activity “likely to destroy” the protected areas requires a permit, which under the order “will contain conditions or restrictions that would reduce the impacts of the activity.”