Wild Atlantic salmon project 'biggest ever' in Eastern Canada
Program uses helicopters to add lime to soil in effort to improve habitat along West River Sheet Harbour
Members of the Nova Scotia Salmon Association have started a three-year project to apply everything they know about restoring wild salmon habitat to one river — the West River Sheet Harbour — in hopes it will become the model for other waterways in the area.
The association has been working on the 197-square-kilometre river, which runs through Sheet Harbour on Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore, for 11 years and the number of young salmon returning to sea each year is increasing.
Bob Rutherford, an aquatic habitat restoration biologist with the association, told CBC's Information Morning he hopes that by focusing efforts on one river for the next three years, association members can "build a model that is transferable from watershed to watershed."
The project is "the biggest ever for salmon in Eastern Canada and it will fix a lot of the problems in the river," he said.
Rutherford said the group has been using a lime doser, "just a silo like you'd see on a farm," to add powdered lime to the river water.
This makes the water less acidic, the fish less susceptible to contamination from heavy metals, and adds calcium and magnesium that fish need for the development of their bones and nervous systems, he said.
"That's been very successful at improving the number of salmon in the river," Rutherford said.
Room for Improvement
When they first started using the lime doser, there were about 2,000 young salmon going out to sea each year; now there are between 10,000 and 12,000, he said.
However, there is room for improvement, Rutherford said. "We're only liming really about 12 per cent of the habitat really well," he said, "so that's why we wanted to expand the program."
A few weeks ago, the association started using helicopters to add lime to the soil around the river.
The association will also continue with the Adopt A Stream program, which aims to restore the salmon's physical habitat by narrowing the river in some places and reintroducing pools that can be a haven for fish when water levels are low.
Rutherford said he's optimistic the three-year project will be a success. "The salmon actually respond pretty quick to this," he said.
"They're pretty good at bringing their population back up if you give them the good habitat and good water," he said. "We're expecting really good returns."
If it works, the same model could be applied to geologically-similar areas from Canso all the way down to Digby, he said.
With files from CBC's Information Morning