Fundy Park Visitors Can Swim With Salmon

CBC News - New Brunswick

Fundy National Park program lets visitors observe, monitor Atlantic salmon

Visitors are trained to engage minimally with the fish only enough to help track their numbers

By Julia Wright, CBC News Posted: Sep 06, 2016 11:32 AM AT

Forget swimming with dolphins: visitors to Fundy National Park can now swim with wild salmon in their natural habitat.

The park's Swim with Salmon for Science program lets visitors both observe the endangered species close-up, and help scientists track the dwindling salmon population.

Over-fishing and environmental changes have taken their toll on the Inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic salmon.

"In the 1980s, we saw the number of Inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic salmon plummet from 40,000 fish to only 400," said Danielle Latendresse, a park employee.

They were declared endangered in May 2001.

Parks Canada has undertaken a breeding program in which young salmon, or smolt, are raised and released into the park's rivers.

Swim with the fishes

The unique chance to swim with the endangered fish aligns with the natural return of salmon to the rivers each September, says Latendresse.

Visitors meet at the Molly Kool Centre at 9 a.m., then hike to a site on the Upper Salmon River. Participants then get a lesson from park biologists on how to survey the salmon while floating in the river.

"Our swift water trained team of park biologists teach you how to snorkel, count and identify Atlantic salmon," said Latendresse.

Visitors also have the chance to "talk to our First Nations experts and park interpreters about our history, and exciting things that are happening with our salmon program," she added.

Minimal hassle for fish

Visitors are trained to swim over the fish, Latendresse says, and "engage just enough to help us monitor the number of returning salmon."

"The salmon pools are pretty deep," she said. "The salmon generally don't get near the swimmers because they're at the bottom of the pool, but the water is so crisp and clear that you get a perfect view of these large, endangered species."

On the way, Latendresse says, they get to experience "some of the most pristine habitat in the park. It's a really beautiful hike."

Kids excited about conservation

The public response to the program has been "incredible," according to Latendresse.

"We're starting to get a lot more requests from schools," she said. "It's really exciting to see the younger generations getting involved in conservation."

After the program ends in late September, visitors can return in October to observe young salmon raised in captivity being released into the rivers of Fundy National Park, says Latendresse.

"There's something about swimming with an endangered species and knowing that you're making a difference in our natural world."

Registration for the Swim with Salmon for Science program is $132 and includes access gear, training, and a locally-made lunch. While there's no age limit, the program is recommended for ages 12 and over. The next outing is scheduled for Sept. 13.

With files from Information Morning Saint John