by Don Ivany, Director of ASF Programs in Newfoundland and Labrador
In the 1980s Corner Brook Stream, which flows through the City of Corner Brook in Western Newfoundland, was heavily polluted and dammed. At the time, DFO concluded the natural run of salmon that once lived in the stream had disappeared. Even before people made a mess, habitat was limited by an impassable waterfall 2.5 km upstream from the mouth.
At the best of times the Corner Brook Stream likely had a population that numbered in the hundreds of adult wild Atlantic salmon. After the dams and pollution, the odds of bringing back a wild run were slim.
ASF's Don Ivany and Keith Piercey of SPAWN celebrate the number of salmon returning to Corner Brook Stream as they stand at the top of the fishway. Photo Geoff Giffin/ASF
Then, in the early 1990ís, not long after I started working with ASF, I got a surprise phone call from a DFO engineer. He informed me that two wooden dams on the lower section of the river were going to be replaced, and he was responsible for the new designs. The engineer asked if there were salmon in the stream and whether fish passage should be included in the new dams. I explained his own department considered them no longer present, and that Corner Brook Stream was heavily polluted.
Still, I suggested fishways should be incorporated, knowing conditions can change. He said it would be easy to include fish passage because they were early in the design process. Little did I know it was the first step in successfully restoring wild salmon back to this urban stream.
Corner Brook Stream shows that even in urban settings, clean water and adequate fish passage can work in restoring a small Atlantic salmon river. Photo Don Ivany/ASF
Once the new dams were in place a local committee formed to build walking trails along the waterway. The public and volunteers began to notice the pollution and general mess. This inspired local environment and conservation groups, supported by the City of Corner Brook, to ask industry to stop dumping waste and chemicals into the water.
Next, annual clean-ups by ASF and SPAWN hauled truckloads of garbage to the landfill Ė everything from old engines to tire rims to shopping carts. Soon after wildlife moved in. Beavers, ducks, muskrats, and more reappeared. Then, for the next ten years, local schools participating in ASF's Fish Friends Program raised salmon from egg to fry, releasing 5,000-10,000 in the brook annually with DFO's permission.
By 2012, Corner Brook Stream had a self-sustaining population, meeting spawning requirements every year since. In one year 151 adults returned. Even in 2017, while most rivers on the island suffered from low returns, Corner Brook Stream hit its target and set two new records - first a 28-pound then a 30-pound salmon came through the fishway.
Looking back, maybe the fry took, or perhaps salmon strayed from nearby rivers and established themselves. Probably a combination of both. Either way, Corner Brook Stream stands as a testament to what can be accomplished when concerned groups, local communities and government come together to provide the opportunity for salmon to thrive.
Fishway at Corner Brook Stream. Photo Don Ivany/ASF
In 2013 ASF and SPAWN were given the Environmental Award for Community Excellence from the City of Corner Brook. Thanks to a sustained effort from volunteers, and a cold-call about fishways more than 25-years ago, Newfoundland has one more stream to be proud of.
Don Ivany, ASF Director of Programs in Newfoundland and Labrador
There has been much discussion on the current low salmon returns to our Newfoundland rivers this year, and what, if anything, to do about it.
I thought it would be a good time to share my perspective on the issue. First, let me say that I am an avid angler, born and bred in NL, with many years of experience on the rivers. I caught my first salmon at Brook Pool on the Humber River in 1969, nearly 50 years ago, and since then have fished most of the well-known rivers on the Island and Labrador, along with many that are not so well known. In doing so I have met a lot of interesting anglers and one thing that Iíve learned over the years is that anglers are a very passionate group of people who love the sport and are quick to share their opinions. And why not? Is there anything more exciting than watching your fly disappear below the surface and feeling the line tighten?
The other thing Iíve learned about anglers is that the majority are Ďeternal optimistsí, always hoping the rain will come when needed, that fishing will be better tomorrow, hopeful runs will improve even when odds are they will not.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with being optimistic, experience has taught us that at times like these, with runs dropping for two years, it is important to be realistic. It's also important to understand what is happening over time. The truth is salmon returns to North American Rivers have declined since the mid-1970s.
We should be proud that Newfoundland and Labrador have some of the best remaining rivers in the world, but still we're not exempt from this trend and the last two years prove it.
Of the 16 rivers monitored by DFO, only four met their minimum spawning target in 2016. In 2017 returns are on average 50 percent lower than last year. DFO scientists believe after July 16 it's unlikely there will be a late surge of fish to make up for the drop.
Despite this, DFO management continues to allow anglers to retain salmon throughout the province, even where populations will not meet minimum spawning requirements. When rivers do not hit minimum spawning targets populations decline. Taking more fish accelerates the drop.
This is why groups like ASF, SCNL, SPAWN, SAEN and others feel that if we want to see healthier returns of fish in the future we must immediately reduce retention levels on these rivers until returns increase and conservation targets are met. This is not an issue about live release, this is an issue about reducing angling mortality by whatever means possible. It's a matter of survival for salmon.
Some will argue DFOs 16 counting facilities are too few and not on the right rivers, giving a skewed estimate of returns. But it's all we have, and the counting fences are telling us salmon runs throughout the province are in poor shape. Having a hunch that other rivers are doing better is not enough to go on.
Others deflect and say there are several issues affecting Atlantic salmon. They ask why isnít ASF dealing with those?
The truth is we are. For example, between 2002 and 2011 ASF had a private agreement in place with Greenlanders to reduce their harvest to subsistence levels. We're ready as soon as they are to go back to the table and negotiate.
ASF is leading a multi-year tracking study to find out why ocean mortality is so high. Next year we're expanding to begin tagging and tracking fish in the Lake Melville area. ASF has been heavily involved in trying to protect wild salmon from aquaculture, including winning a recent Newfoundland Supreme Court case regarding the proposed Placentia Bay project. We have played a lead role in getting all bait-nets in NL set parallel to the shore and set a fathom below the surface to prevent by-catch. We have partnered with aboriginal groups on the use of live traps in an effort to support a selective harvest. We are currently involved with the capelin seiner issue, we're urging government to beef up enforcement, and more.
In the meantime it may come as a surprise to many, that anglers kill more fish than any other sector in Canada, 69 t last year, with the lionís share of it harvested in NL.
So, instead of laying blame I would like to think most anglers in this province would prefer to remain optimists, lead by example and reduce retention levels, instead of finger pointing and joining the race to the bottom. Under the circumstances the status quo is no longer acceptable.
In closing, I would like to suggest that instead of throwing rocks at each other, anglers come together under the shared goal of conservation. If we do so, anglers have the ability to let more salmon live, and help ensure the resource is in better shape for our children.
Back in 2013, we constructed a new rock-and-pool fishway at the outlet of Coleman Pond in Lincolnville, Maine. Coleman Pond is in the Ducktrap River watershed, which is home to a very small and genetically distinct run of endangered Atlantic salmon.
The old outlet dam was deteriorating and did not have any form of fish passage. Working with professional engineers from Kleinschmidt Associates and the NOAA Restoration Center, we developed a plan to build a natural looking fishway that would allow alewives, Atlantic salmon, American eel, and brook trout into and out of Coleman Pond. The design would also provide for greater control and management of water levels in Coleman Pond, a great benefit for camp and home owners. Following construction, the State of Maine began stocking Coleman with alewives and 2017 would be the first year that we would expect to see any adults returning from that seeding.
In late June I visited the fishway with the hopes of seeing some alewives even though we are near the end of the run and we likely would not have many 3-year old fish returning to the system. But, lo and behold, there were 10 alewives milling about in the top pool of the fishway when I got there. A small amount of debris was blocking the notch in the top weir that they needed to swim through to get into Coleman, so I spent about 15 minutes clearing the sticks and muck from the area. Within a few minutes the alewives started popping up into the pond, hopefully to join many others that had previously made that last jump.
Today was the first time that I had been back to the fishway since the autumn of 2013 and I was curious to see what condition it was in after 4 winters. The fishway looked fantastic and had held up perfectly. I look forward to returning to Coleman Pond in 2018, hopefully a few weeks earlier, to see what should be a run of several thousand alewives.
Lewis Hinks, ASF Director of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island Programs
This past week I spent time in Cheticamp working with the local group the Cheticamp River Salmon Association and NSSA Past President Rene Aucoin, of that group.
We held our annual fly casting/fishing session with students from the local school. This is a great event and lots of fun for the kids and the association volunteers. Joel Camus, a CRSA member owns a lovely property with a large lawn where we can teach the kids the basics of fly casting and he has a spring fed pond stocked with large trout.
Lewis Hinks assists Landon MacIntosh in learning how to cast at the Cheticamp.
The kids learn how to do a simple pick up and laydown cast, some key knots for fishing and then we let them cast to the fish. They learn how to work the fly, set a hook when the fish takes and how to play a fish. Many of these fish are in the 4-5lb range so the kids have quite a thrill when the catch one. This program has introduced many youth in the area to the life long sport of fly fishing and some become instantly addicted to the sport.
After this session, Rene and I explored a large section of the Cheticamp River, observing changes that with restoration work has done and also seeing the changes up river from the big flood of 2015. It was amazing to see the changes to the river. Some older established pools had changed, some for the better some not so much. But what was really impressive was the number and variety of new pools formed. We saw what looks like more and improved spawning areas and much more overwintering areas for juveniles.
New pool on the Cheticamp
Rene and I chatted about the need now to begin naming the new pools. Not a bad task, having to re-explore and learn a river again, one that you have known your entire life.
Fence Pool has been improved with deeper areas and narrowed channel
by Lewis Hinks, ASF Director of Programs for Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
There is a lot of cool work being done on the West River Sheet Harbour.
This week researchers from Dalhousie were on-site to aid in mapping and recording river habitat prior to some major work being conducted on the river. They used a drone to map the river channel and record habitat details. It was quite impressive to watch and to see some of the images that were being recorded. This will provide a valuable record of pre-treatment work and a good way to see the changes that will occur with the work.
The drone controller mechanism allows for both control and real-time viewing of the scene being caught by the drone itself. Photo Lewis Hinks/ASF
Drones have been used in habitat mapping work in other areas, but this is my first real experience with them. It is incredible technology with many potential uses.
Drone's view of the river can give phenomenal detail from a perspective that was costly to acquire just a few years ago. It allows effective mapping of river habitat in West River Sheet Harbour. Photo Dr. Jeff Barrell, Dalhousie University.