Atlantic Salmon Research 2015
Unique genetic strain of Atlantic Salmon in our region!
Prince Edward Island and Atlantic Salmon are not often thought of together, however, they should be as Prince Edward Island has a rich history of Atlantic Salmon with historically over 70 rivers containing the iconic species. The last comprehensive report in 2009 by Daryl Guignion identified 22 rivers with Atlantic Salmon. Atlantic Salmon populations are declining in many regions of the island due to increased sedimentation, poor water quality, lack of quality habitat (aquatic and riparian) and connectivity issues related to beaver activity and transportation infrastructure.
Declines in Atlantic Salmon are not limited to the island but are a Maritime wide problem.
The dismal 2014 return rates were the reason that the Honourable Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, initiated a Ministerial Advisory Committee on Atlantic Salmon. This committee is tasked with investigating conservation and enforcement measures, predation issues, advancing science and developing strategies to address international fishing pressures.
Souris and Area Branch Staff presented to this advisory committee in March during a meeting in Moncton. Our presentation was markedly different than the rest as we explained that the Atlantic Salmon populations are on the increase within our management zone. Click here for this presentation. Atlantic Salmon populations within Northeast PEI have increased in the past few years and can be considered a success story. Since 2008, the number of Atlantic Salmon Rivers in our management zone have increased from 4 to 7. More information on our annual redd count numbers can be found here
Additionally, the number of redd counts (salmon nests) have increased within our rivers. Atlantic Salmon can now be found in Cow River, Hay River, Priest Pond Creek, North Lake Creek, Naufrage River, Cross River and Bear River.
Why are our Atlantic Salmon populations increasing despite decreases in other areas? While there are many complexities with regards to Atlantic Salmon population numbers, we feel increases in our area can be attributed to two main reasons:
1) SAB has invested much time and effort into improving the aquatic environment within our rivers. By removing stream blockages, installing brush mattresses and habitat structures, our group has dramatically increased Atlantic Salmon habitat providing the necessary conditions for adult spawning and juvenile survival. We have worked with local stakeholders including landowners and farmers to improve riparian buffer zones and mitigate run-off into our waterways.
2) Recent research by Laval University (Moore et al. 2014) have identified that Atlantic Salmon within North Lake Creek and Cross River are a different genetic strain compared to the other populations on PEI and within the Gulf region. Our Atlantic Salmon potentially could be the “ancestral strain” of PEI Atlantic Salmon. This means that our Atlantic Salmon are best suited to our rivers and habitat conditions. Limited stocking of Atlantic Salmon occurred in our region. You can find the research paper by Laval University here.
Starting spring 2015, SAB initiated a multi-year research project aimed at finding out more about the genetics and life history parameters for the Atlantic Salmon within our region. By further understanding the biology and traits of our populations we can better manage, protect and conserve our Atlantic Salmon resources. We are working with a variety of partners including: University of Prince Edward Island (Scott Roloson, Dr. Mike van den Heuvel, Daryl Guignion), PEI Fish and Wildlife staff (Rosie MacFarlane), Atlantic Salmon Federation (Lewis Hinks), Abegweit First Nation Band (Roger Sark and field crew), Mi’kmaq Confederacy (Randy Angus) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (Dr. David Cairns). Our work this spring involved setting a net within North Lake Creek to track the movement of smolt (2 year-old salmon) on their downstream migration to the ocean. We hope this fall to have enough resources available to install a fish weir to monitor the migration of adult Atlantic Salmon upstream. Plans for next year include tagging salmon smolt with acoustic tags to track their migration route in the ocean. To date, most of the information on Atlantic Salmon management and biology come from the large rivers such as the Miramichi River with limited information available for small rivers such as our systems. With the suggestion that our populations are an ancestral strain, this lack of information becomes more pronounced as our salmon could have different traits compared to other populations leading to many management uncertainties.
The budget for this project is large and we are thankful for the support of the PEI Wildlife Conservation Fund for their help and to the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation for their support of our restoration work. We continue to look for more sponsors, funders and partners to contribute to this worthwhile project.