A $2.6-million experiment has begun to try to save the wild Atlantic salmon in the inner Bay of Fundy.
Parks Canada is partnering with the aquaculture industry on the five-year project to raise smolts from three rivers in pens at sea.
There are only a few dozen Atlantic wild salmon left in the bay, said Livia Goodbrand, a Parks Canada spokesperson, who works at Fundy National Park.
Fry from hatcheries that are placed in rivers just disappear when they enter the bay as smolts, she said.
Under the project, smolts will be transferred to cages operated by Cooke Aquaculture to grow. The adults will then be returned to the Wolf, Salmon and Pollet rivers to spawn.
"So our idea here is if we can inject a lot of adult fish who have significant wild exposure back into the rivers, then we might have a chance," said Goodbrand.
"The real key advantage to doing this is a numbers game. We could never rear enough fish in a hatchery, we don't have the expertise or the resources to do that.
"Working with the aquaculture industry, who makes a living out of growing salmon, we are now able to grow a huge number of our wild inner Bay of Fundy smolts in these conservation sea cages for release back into the wild."
Cause of deaths unknown
Jonathan Carr, the executive director of research and environment for the Atlantic Salmon Federation, said he supports the project, but he wants money spent on figuring out why the salmon are dying in the ocean.
"To try and identify where it is when it is dying, where it is dying and what are the causes of death," he said.
Wendy Epworth, of Fort Folly First Nation, another partner in the project, said she hopes it will build up a critical mass of adult salmon to help resolve the problem.
"If we can build a program year over year that eventually there will be enough smolt coming out of the rivers … it might help kick start the natural recovery of the population," she said.