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Return of the king fish
Scientists successfully lure salmon back to Bay of Fundy

Fundy National Park ecologist, Dan Mazerolle, stands chest deep in the teacoloured water of the Upper Salmon River, corralling inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic salmon with seine nets for counting and sampling. Dozens of silver and copper fish splash and twist, their bodies flashing over the brightly pebbled river bottom.

“It’s a good day,” says Mazerolle. After a 20-plus year absence along the Bay of Fundy, the King of the Fish had returned home to spawn.

In 2000, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada scientists, along with First Nations and environmental groups, embarked on a complex recovery and tracking program that secured the genetic diversity of this endangered, genetically unique population of salmon. But despite their best efforts, salmon continued to migrate from their natal rivers for the Bay of Fundy, then vanish. Until now. In May 2010, researchers collected 600 smolt from the Upper Salmon River and transported them to Admiral Fisheries’ sea cages near Saint George, N.B. The fish were reared in this wild, but monitored, environment until September 2011 when researchers tagged and released half of them 5km offshore of Fundy National Park, and half at the Upper Salmon River estuary.

Would these river-raised, sea-wintered fish survive and return? That fall, 35 were spotted in the Point Wolfe River and one year later, 42 were counted in the Upper Salmon River, marking an exciting turning point in the recovery program. But Mazerolle cautions, “We’re not out of the woods yet.” “We’ve seen some positive results and learned that wild-reared adults can survive in the marine environment. The next challenge is producing a [river-hatched] smolt that leaves our rivers and comes back as an adult.”

By Deborah Carr

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