West River salmon restocking efforts already a success: watershed group

The local watershed group, along with the Abegweit Hatchery, has been restocking a part of the West River that used to be full of Atlantic salmon.

'We have a success story already because the salmon we have put in have survived,' says watershed member

Depending on what happens in the West River, salmon fry could someday be heading to other rivers across Prince Edward Island. (CBC)

There's a lot of hope riding on the tiny salmon entering the West River in P.E.I.

The local watershed group, along with the Abegweit Hatchery, has been restocking a part of the West River that was once full of Atlantic salmon. 

The group has seen success so far from its efforts,  and it's hoping it continues for many years to come.

"What we've seen over the last four or five years is a slow increase in the numbers of Atlantic salmon," said Daryl Guignion, who's with the Central Queens Wildlife Federation.

The salmon spend two years in the fresh water of the West River before heading out to sea, he said, and if all goes well the first of the restocked fish should be coming back to spawn this year.

'The future looks really good,' says Daryl Guignion. (CBC)

"If you're a salmon fisherman and you think of restoring salmon to rivers where they hadn't been, or been very scarce, it's exceedingly exciting," he said.

"The future looks really good … We have a success story already because the salmon we have put in have survived."

Rosie MacFarlane, a fisheries biologist with the government, said small salmon fry don't have to stay as long in the hatchery, which cuts down on the cost of restocking.

It's a very proud moment for us, we're proud of what we do at the hatchery in Scotchford.— Chief Brian Francis

She also said that the fish don't have as much wear on their fins from being in tanks.

"This is stocking of fry that are just hatched out, so they're quite small," she said.

"They put small numbers of these fry directly into the ideal habitat and so we're hoping that this will show that this is a successful technique for us to use in other rivers on P.E.I."

'It's nice to give back to Mother Nature'

The MacLauchlan government provides more than $50,000 a year for the Abegweit Hatchery to support the Island's recreational fishery.​

Abegweit First Nation Chief Brian Francis said the hatchery has grown "quite rapidly" as they've hired more staff and are looking at an expansion with outdoor tanks and more.

He said "the sky's the limit" for the future of the hatchery and the success of the restocking efforts in the West River so far is proof that they're "doing the right thing."

'This is stocking of fry that are just hatched out, so they're quite small,' Rosie MacFarlane says. (CBC)

"It's a very proud moment for us, we're proud of what we do at the hatchery in Scotchford and it's nice to give back to Mother Nature in this way," he said.

"And I always say it's a venture we'll never get rich on but it's the right thing to do for us as Mi'kmaq people."

Depending on what happens in the West River, salmon fry could someday be heading to other rivers across Prince Edward Island as well.

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With files from Nancy Russell