Fishermen worry about at-risk salmon’s future in Gaspereau river
Published July 24, 2016
The Gaspereau River is home to more fish than just its small namesake, the gaspereau. Salmon sightings have become more common.
A 30-year high in sightings of the endangered Inner Bay of Fundy Salmon on its migration route is causing concern about whether enough is being done to restore the species.
Weir fishers in the Minas Passage have seen more than 10 SARA-listed adult salmon this season, two of which made it to the fish ladder at the top of the Gaspereau River.
A week later, they’re still waiting on a third, and its fate has been on the fishers’ minds every day.
Last week, a group from the Gaspereau fishery watched with both concern and delight as an almost three-foot-long wild salmon made several unsuccessful attempts to get from the lower Gaspereau River to its spawning grounds six kilometres up the river.
Their fascination lies with the fact that the species is such a rare sight here among the hundreds of thousands of gaspereaux caught and salted for export to Haiti or used for lobster bait.
While it’s the third known salmon in the river this year, it’s only the first seen by them because of the low water levels.
“It’s stranded here,” fisher Peter Croft told the Chronicle Herald.
The fishers stood on the bank of Croft’s property, that has been in his family for generations, and watched the fish swim upstream and then downstream again, over and over.
The fish wanted to go up the river but couldn’t because there’s not enough water, he said.
Croft said the water temperature is already 26 degrees so it’s critical the fish finds cooler, deeper water.
“It’s not going to be able to survive. [The water] is going to be too warm for it.”
Croft called Jamie Gibson, a research scientist at DFO, and Tim Curry, the Eastern Valley hydro superintendent who operates the Black River system for Nova Scotia Power.
A stranded SARA-listed salmon demands the attention of both of them because even one death of the endangered species has a signifcant impact on its population.
Both are mandated to support sustainable fish populations and avoid fish mortality.
“They can’t turn on the generator to let more water down through that, because the canal up there is full of tiny gaspereaux,” said Croft.
“It’s a Catch 22.”
Curry decided to do what's called a salmon-attraction water release.
Opening the White Rock gate further upstream will add more in-stream flow so the fish can continue on its migration to the fish ladder, from where the Coldbrook hatchery comes to get them to milk them off and hatch the eggs, returning the fish back to the river.
“We release 80 cubic feet a second of extra water once a week for about five weeks after we stop generating,” said Curry.
He explained that the company shuts down power generation between June 15 and Labour Day. It’s obliged by the Department of Environment to keep a certain water level in the Gaspereau and Black River lakes.
Croft explained the river is so low because the company is doing fewer releases now because there is less salmon.
“It’s possible we see less salmon in the Gaspereau River because they are doing less at critical times of the year, when we should do more,” said Avon River fisher Darren Porter.
Porter has fought for more salmon passage in the Avon River for over a decade and is witnessing a return of the species there.
The Black River system, which includes the Gaspereau River, is currently the third largest renewable hydro generator in the province, after Wreck Cove and the Mersey River.
Generation on the river has been going for almost 100 years, since the 1920s.
It’s also the most fish-abundant river, too, said NSP’s Curry.
“There’s more operations around gaspereau, salmon and smelt, and bass than any other river system that hydro has.”
It’s the only fishery to detect the effects from the installation of tidal energy turbines in the Minas Passage, he said.
That’s why fishers here are wondering why they were never consulted about the FORCE site or effects monitoring.
That will change next week, as a meeting is scheduled on Monday, July 25 at 7 p.m. at the Gaspereau Community Hall.
“[It’s] the only fishery in the whole Minas Basin that has been extensively studied with Nova Scotia Power,” said Croft.
“And there’s records and records and records.”
“These guys tell me this was quite a salmon river in its day,” said Curry, pointing to the group trying to look out for the stranded salmon.
“Yes,” agreed Croft. “It really was. I think they’re trying to come back.”