Wild Atlantic salmon are critically low in all inner Bay of Fundy rivers due to a variety of factors including overfishing and habitat change. Today, the inner Bay of Fundy salmon is listed as an endangered species under the Species at Risk Act.
The disappearance of wild Atlantic salmon poses a real environmental issue and threatens the culture, history, and economy of New Brunswick and the First Nations communities.
Their survival now depends on human intervention, new thinking and the collaboration of our dedicated project partners. Our goal is to recover and preserve this species of salmon for future generations.
Nurturing Wild Atlantic Salmon In Nature
In the past, Atlantic salmon conservation efforts have focused on a number of initiatives, including knocking down obsolete dams, adding fish ladders and releasing young salmon into the wild. But these efforts have not made a significant difference to wild Atlantic salmon returns.
Fundy Salmon Recovery takes a different approach.
Our research shows that Atlantic salmon that spend their early lives in rivers or streams act and grow very differently than fish raised in a hatchery. Ultimately, they have a much better chance of survival.
Fundy Salmon Recovery is the first project in the world to collect young fish that have spent the critical early life stages in the wild and then cares for them in an ocean environment at a dedicated marine farm site operated by Cooke Aquaculture. When the salmon have grown to adult size and are ready to spawn, they are released back into their home rivers, the Upper Salmon River and the Petitcodiac river system.
The Recovery Process
A young salmon is influenced throughout its development by its early experiences. Research has shown that Atlantic salmon that have maximum exposure to the wild produce stronger fish. This means that young Atlantic salmon that are exposed to life in a river are better equipped to survive in the wild. Scientists have also learned that the younger a fish can be released from captivity into the rivers, the better. The best result comes from fish that have been hatched in the wild. And for that to happen, you need adult salmon to spawn in the rivers.
The Live Gene Bank, based out of the Fisheries and Oceans Canada Mactaquac Biodiversity Facility, protects the unique families of the inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic salmon population by collecting juveniles from the wild, growing them to adult, and spawning them in captivity. The baby salmon (fry) produced from these spawnings are released back to the wild.
Once the fry grow to be young salmon (smolts), Fort Folly Habitat Recovery, the University of New Brunswick and Parks Canada work to retrieve the smolts from Fundy National Park rivers and the Petitcodiac watershed. These wild smolts are taken to Dark Harbour on Grand Manan Island where they are cared for by Cooke Aquaculture with support from the Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association and the Province of New Brunswick on the World’s First Wild Salmon Marine Conservation Farm. The farm is equipped with custom-designed conservation aquaculture net pens – the first of its kind in the world. The fish are fed specialized diets developed for wild fish by biologists and aquaculture nutrition experts.
When the salmon have grown into adults, and are ready to spawn, they are released back into their natal rivers. The hope is that their offspring will have more wild instincts than their parents. These annual releases of adult Atlantic salmon into their natal river and the anticipated survival of their eggs into healthy smolts will continue the program.
The Swim with Salmon program gives visitors to Fundy National Park a unique opportunity to take action and experience this project up close and personal. Visitors can join park biologists and First Nations experts on a snorkeling expedition to monitor local populations of Atlantic salmon.
Recent research shows that Atlantic salmon are an important contributor of marine nutrients to the rivers where they spawn. It is expected that the increased abundance of wild Atlantic salmon in the rivers will lead to an increase in valuable nutrients, thereby increasing the productivity of aquatic vegetation and insects. In order to identify and assess the nutrient impact of salmon, scientists from the University of New Brunswick are studying the feeding behavior of different organisms that are found in river ecosystems. This is important information because salmon populations depend on functional and diverse food webs, which in turn, depend on salmon returning to the river.
The success of releasing marine raised adult salmon into their natal rivers will be assessed by tagging and tracking adults and collecting data on spawning behaviour. A Dual frequency IDentifaction SONar (DIDSON) camera is also deployed to detect naturally returning adults that came from the recovery program.
As rivers cross jurisdictional boundaries and the value of salmon as a recreational fishery is high, collaboration amongst local law enforcement (LE) agencies is the best strategy for their protection. Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, New Brunswick’s Department of Public Safety and Natural resources, RCMP, Environment Canada, and Crime Stoppers, have formed the Inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic Salmon Protection Initiative. Through education, monitoring and enforcement, this initiative will help to ensure the protection of salmon during a critical period of their life cycle, while also building capacity amongst local LE agencies for ongoing and future collaboration.