Atlantic salmon run saved after Chéticamp River landslide

Atlantic salmon are making their annual migration up Cape Breton's Chéticamp River just two weeks after a landslide blocked most of the waterway.

Parks Canada quickly hired a contractor to clear debris from the river

No one was injured and no property was damaged after a landslide on May 27 blocked most of the Chéticamp River directly across from the main campground at the entrance to Cape Breton Highlands National Park. (Parks Canada)

Atlantic salmon are once again moving up Cape Breton's Chéticamp River, just two weeks after a landslide blocked most of the waterway.

Grateful fishermen say Parks Canada acted quickly to hire a contractor and clear the debris, saving the annual migration.

An angler noticed the landslide a couple of hundred metres upstream from the bridge that carries the Cabot Trail across the river on May 27, said René  Aucoin, president of the Chéticamp River Atlantic Salmon Association.

Aucoin, who lives downstream from the main campground at the entrance to Cape Breton Highlands National Park, said the coastal cove in front of his property near the mouth of the river was filled with mud just hours after the landslide.

Debris blocked about 80 per cent of the river, said Rob Howey, resource conservation manager for Cape Breton Highlands National Park. (Parks Canada)

He immediately became concerned after the mountain gave way, because salmon usually migrate up the river in late May and early June.

"It looked really, really bad that morning," Aucoin said. "I mean, all the trees were in the river. You must understand, that whole slope, that was all treed, so there must have been 100 or more trees just piled up in there, in the river, so it was quite the mess.

"God knows how many tonnes of dirt and gravel and rock fell into the river at the same time, and the whole thing swept across the river."

No one was injured and no property was damaged in the landslide, which Aucoin said took an area of about 35 metres by 60 metres off the bank and spread it dozens of metres across the river.

Parks Canada hired a contractor who brought in two machines and cleared away debris over two days late last week. (Parks Canada)

After meeting with the salmon association, Parks Canada hired a local firm that brought in two machines to open the river channel over two days late last week, and the cleanup seems to have helped.

Salmon are starting to move up the river, Aucoin said.

"I did catch a salmon this past Saturday below the slide, so I know that they're going up," he said. "The one I took Saturday was about 20 pounds, so there's still good, good fish in that river."

Campground in no danger

Rob Howey, resource conservation manager for the park, said the cleanup cost about $50,000.

The park's main campground on the opposite bank was never in danger, although it could have flooded if the debris was left in the river, he said.

"We did close some campsites as a precaution to make sure, in the event that the river shifted at all, but the main concern was the salmon run up the river there," Howey said.

It's not clear why the landslide occurred, he said. The area had a fairly wet spring, but landslides naturally occur from time to time along the Chéticamp River.

There may be a little bit of work left to do to stabilize the bank, but the area should be safe now, Howey said.

"If there's any further slides or anything like that, we'll address them at that time, but for now, one or a couple of trees that come down into the river, nature might be able to take its course on those," he said.

About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 32 years. He has spent the last 14 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.