New hope for the Atlantic salmon in the Inner Bay of Fundy.
Take a moment and imagine this: it is late spring and the last of the snowmelt has all but drained into the river. The water temperature is perfect— a balmy 15C— as you embark on a familiar journey. Having spent the past few years in the ocean, you are strong, athletic, and fat— all factors which will prove vital for your success. Sure, you have done this route before (first as a seaward-bound smolt), but the hundreds of kilometers that lay in front of you are treacherous and the predators are diverse and plentiful. To make matters worse, you will be fighting the current much of the way.
You will encounter many obstacles en route to your final destination: the same cold and rocky freshwater pools where you hatched just a few years prior. You will use your unparalleled athleticism to leap over waterfalls up to 4.5m high and scrape your belly along the river floor when the water gets low. You are almost there—just a few more kilometers.
But something is different this time. What was once a fast-moving river has slowed and widened, forming a great pool and swallowing the surrounding earth. A culvert was installed to redirect water and enable passage for organisms like yourself has become blocked by debris. You are not alone; other salmon have assembled near the dammed culvert in an attempt to reach headwater spawning habitats. It is evident that in desperation, others have tried to nest in the sediment below but it is far from an ideal habitat. Moreover, competition for space and overlapping nests mean high egg mortality. For now, your journey has come to an end.
The Atlantic salmon is arguably the most iconic fish species in New Brunswick waters. Unfortunately, the species has been in sharp decline for several decades, particularly in the Inner Bay of Fundy where it has been deemed critically endangered. Despite these dire circumstances, there is new hope for the cold-water superstar.
There is no one factor to blame for population declines; the cumulative stress of pollution, predation, overfishing, increasing water temperature, genetic concerns, and river fragmentation all affect species’ health. As land development increases, instances of in-stream structures like dams and culverts follow suit. Fragmented waterways prevent migratory species from reaching their spawning grounds and completing their full lifecycle. Consequently, increasing and restoring river connectivity has played a key role in regional salmon conservation efforts. To concerned citizens and environmental scientists alike, the opening of the Moncton Causeway was seen as a much-needed step in this direction.
In 2014, the PWA began identifying and removing barriers to fish passage as a part of its Broken Brooks project. In the ensuing years, more than 1000 site crossings have been assessed (including over 400 culverts). Broken Brooks remediation efforts have involved debris removals, the construction of rock weirs, outflow chute installations, and bank-stabilizing alder-woven structures to restore passage and improve habitat.
According to the Fort Folly Habitat Recovery Project (FFHRP), a Mi’kmaw-run group that focuses on restoring traditionally important species and their habitats, salmon populations have rebounded in two watersheds in Fundy National Park. According to Tim Robinson, director of FFHR, “People want salmon back in their rivers… we’re determined to do our part and make that happen, and it’s just not acceptable to be inactive.” The FFHR has played a key role in improving the species’ trajectory within the Inner Bay of Fundy by capturing juvenile fish, raising them, and then releasing mature salmon into historically abundant rivers. In 2022, the group reported that at least 114 adult salmon naturally returned to Fundy National Park. At Fort Folly habitat, 35 adult salmon returned to the Petitcodiac. In total, the group has released more than one million unfed fry (fish at an early developmental phase) into the Petitcodiac Watershed, along with more than 8,000 mature adults. While the species is far from its historic carrying capacity, these returns are grounds for some much-needed celebration.
To participate in the PWA’s 25th-anniversary summer giveaway, post a picture of the Petitcodiac River to Facebook or Instagram, tag us, and use #25watershedmoments. Some good ways to observe the river include the Petitcodiac Riverfront Trail and the Moncton waterfront park.
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