Nfld. & Labrador

Rocky River construction stalling salmon, author says

Construction on a fishway in St. Mary's Bay has sparked concerns as equipment is preventing spawning salmon from swimming upriver.

DFO trying to transfer fish, but hasn't made much progress

Don Hustins says construction in Rocky River is keeping salmon from moving upriver, putting a stop to spawning. (Courtesy Tom Moffatt/ASF)

Construction on a fishway in St. Mary's Bay has sparked concerns as equipment is preventing spawning salmon from swimming upriver.

Don Hustins, author of Rivers of Dreams: The Evolution of Fly-Fishing and Conservation of Atlantic Salmon in Newfoundland and Labrador, says the fishway in Rocky River near Colinet dates back to the 1940s, and was first rebuilt by the Fisheries and Oceans department in the 1980s.

We have bay seals following [salmon] daily back and forth, and they're eating as much as they can ...- Don Hustins, author

Hustins, who visited the site last week, told  CBC's St. John's Morning Show Monday the previous fishway has been demolished completely. 

"In its place, DFO is building what I understand to be a state of the art, new fishway," said Hustins.

He estimates the job is about 10 per cent completed. 

"It, no doubt, will be a great facility when it's done but, unfortunately, the primary run of salmon in the river, which occurs from the first two or three weeks of July, has already started."

Hustins believes there are hundreds of additional salmon under the non-operational fishway that are unable to move upriver. He said 500 to 600 salmon swim upriver at the site annually, though it can accommodate more than 3,000.

The real problem, he says, will come in the fall when the fish begin to spawn in the fresh water.
Author Don Hustins says the salmon are especially vulnerable to bay seals. (Nichole Manuel/Facebook)

"Those salmon are returning daily, back and forth with the tides, trying to get up the river. They're very vulnerable," he said.

Hustins said in these circumstances, the salmon are susceptible to poaching and predators. 

"We have bay seals following them daily back and forth, and they're eating as much as they can so hopefully we get this resolved before all those fish are gone."

If the several hundred fish aren't corralled, Hustins said the river, which serves as an index for DFO's research, could also suffer.

DFO trying various methods with little success

Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has been trying various strategies to get the trapped salmon back up the river, but so far it hasn't made much progress.

"We were successful in catching some fish and transferring them over the falls, but they certainly weren't the number we wanted to capture," said Carole Grant, who heads up the salmonoid division at DFO.

DFO has tried multiple methods to get salmon back up Rocky River before populations are affected. (CBC)

Some of the methods they have attempted include using a trap used for research purposes to try and isolate the salmon, using pumps to change the flow of the water and getting local fisherman to try and catch the fish so that they can be moved to the other side of the falls.

With the high temperatures causing the water levels to drop, there is fear the trapped salmon will not have suitable areas where they can hold up and survive.

Grant said DFO hopes to find some way to avoid that and move the salmon before construction of the new fishway is complete.

"The ladder will be up and running in October, but it probably won't be in time for this year's upstream migration of salmon," she said.

"The hopes are that we're able to transfer the fish before the fish before the fishway will be completed this year."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the fishway in Rocky River was successful prior to being rebuilt by DFO, but should have actually read unsuccessful.
    Aug 18, 2015 8:56 AM NT

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