A fishy invention: Souris wildlife group designs new fish ladder
'I would say that every watershed in P.E.I. has got several culvert issues'
A P.E.I. wildlife group is experimenting with a new way to help small fish make their way upstream — a made-on-P.E.I. fish ladder.
The three metre (10-foot) long aluminum structure was installed in June on a culvert on the Selkirk Road, in the waters of the Cow River.
"It's a whole series of baffles and design work on the inside to make the water flow so that fish can go up it and there are places to rest," explained Fred Cheverie, watershed coordinator for the Souris and Area branch of the P.E.I. Wildlife Federation.
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Before the fish ladder was built, only larger fish such as Atlantic salmon and bigger brook trout could make the leap to head upstream.
"But smaller brookies definitely wouldn't make it and definitely smelts and gaspereau had no chance of jumping it," said Cheverie.
That meant the smaller fish were missing out on some important habitat upstream.
"If they couldn't jump it, they didn't get upstream and Cow River I should point out is probably one of the most pristine rivers in the eastern area," he said.
"It's got miles and miles and miles of habitat below this bridge and above this bridge."
Cheverie scoured the internet for ways to get the fish upstream, including elaborate fish ladders and bypass fishways in places such as Alaska.
"We're talking methods that would probably cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and we didn't have that kind of money," said Cheverie.
He applied, successfully, for funding from the Recreational Fisheries Conservation Partnerships Program through Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
"We're trying to mitigate the problem as cheap as we can, so we're able to build this and install it with the help of some partners for approximately $5,000."
Modified for P.E.I.
Cheverie took his concept to Floyd Burke at Burke's Custom Metal Works in Souris, P.E.I., who he'd worked with on past projects.
"We modified it a bit to suit the waters of P.E.I., other than that it was pretty straight forward," said Burke.
The Souris wildlife branch also received support from the provincial government departments of Fish and Wildlife and Transportation.
"They had a boom truck up on the road here set up and they came in and did a lot of the heavy lifting because it's way too heavy for us to do by hand," said Mike Jacklyn, field supervisor for the Souris branch.
Before the crew installed the new fish ladder, they electrofished downstream and fin clipped a number of the fish. In the fall, they'll look upstream to see if they've passed through.
"The true test will be next spring when we can get smelts and gaspereau above this," said Cheverie.
"It will be very exciting," said Jacklyn.
"It means that all this spawning ground, if this works, all those fish can use that and they can travel back and forth."
Lots of interest
Watershed groups across the Island are keeping a close eye on the project.
"I would say that every watershed in P.E.I. has got several culvert issues," said Cheverie.
"Other watershed coordinators I've talked to, everybody's kind of watching this fairly closely to see if this is going to work."
Cheverie is so optimistic that the Souris branch already has plans to install more soon, possibly even a second one in 2017.
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