A special project to reintroduce salmon into the inner Bay of Fundy is hoping to beat all the odds.
Chris Carr, a hatchery assistant with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, is helping to release salmon fry into New Brunswick's Pollate River, hoping they will go back to the wild and reproduce — something that has not been happening.
"Nobody knows what's going on. They just seem to be going out and not returning," he said Wednesday. "So, whether they're getting eaten by seals, or it could be a number of things."
Marco Morency, of Petitcodiac Riverkeeper, said salmon are on the brink of extinction.
"This is the most endangered species. It's on the brink of extinction and there are probably less than 1,000 individuals in the wild," he said.
"In the '90s, they just stopped counting (salmon) because they just couldn't find any anymore," Morency said.
He wants to see salmon back in rivers of the Inner Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Morency's group and 10 others make up the Petitcodiac Fish Restoration Coalition. Along with the fisheries department, they are trying a new experiment.
The team is now releasing 450,000 salmon fry into the Pollate River which feeds into the Petitcodiac River, and finally into the Atlantic Ocean.
These small fry are salmon from four different Inner Bay of Fundy rivers — one in New Brunswick and three in Nova Scotia.
And, for the first time, the Nova Scotia salmon have been cross-bred for release.
"It's thought that maybe genetically they aren't compatible with the habitat available in the ocean. So what they've done, they want to find a mixed strain that's maybe more compatible with the habitat as it exists now," biologist John Bagnall said.
The hope is that 200 of those salmon fry will survive and return three years from now, he said.
"That's maybe wishful thinking. We're going to find out, that's the reason we do these experiments, " Bagnall said. "It couldn't get much worse. I mean, there are no fish coming back at all now. We're in the worst-case scenario."
So basically, it's survival of the fittest to see which strain or strains go out to the ocean and return to spawn in the river.
"This is extremely significant," Morency said. "We could save the species by what we're doing right now."
The inner Bay of Fundy is considered the heart of Atlantic salmon survival so if they can survive there, they can survive anywhere.