Siltation poses risk to endangered salmon in Cooks Brook

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Lunenburg County residents concerned with silt levels
WATCH: Residents in Lunenburg County are concerned about the level of silt in a critical salmon spawning brook near Bridgewater. Elizabeth McSheffrey reports – Apr 4, 2019

Silt levels rise and fall in Cooks Brook, a small body of water that flows into the LaHave River near the Nova Scotia town of Bridgewater. Every autumn, Atlantic salmon spawn there, laying their eggs in homemade nests on beds of gravel.

The silt was so thick this week, however, provincial inspectors were sent in to determine its source. Silt can settle on the salmon eggs and suffocate them to death before they can hatch in the spring.

“Yesterday this was so brown that it looked like chocolate milk,” Carroll Randall, president of the LaHave River Salmon Association, told Global News on Thursday.

Today it’s a little light, and probably by tomorrow it’ll be gone.”

Heavy rainfall, high winds and human activity all play a role in the muddied waters – construction projects upstream, for example, or a nearby quarry. But this is the third dramatic increase in less than four months, said Randall, which has him concerned about the spring returns.

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“This could be catastrophic for the population in this brook. If they all die, that means a whole generation has been lost,” he said.

The LaHave River salmon are part of the Nova Scotia Southern Upland population, a federally designated endangered species. In the 1980s and 90s, recalled Randall, they flocked to the river by the thousands. But last year, the Fisheries and Oceans Canada counted less than 200.

Local conservation groups are concerned that human activity nearby will take a toll on the fish, and have taken extensive measures to restore their numbers. The LaHave River is part of the NSLC Adopt A Stream program, which has helped monitor and improve its water quality, restore habitat, and improve fish passage through the installation of culverts.

Much of that work has been carried out by the Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation, which has offered to support developers in the area in minimizing their activities’ risk to salmon.

“Coastal Action is here to support in implementing and planning for the correct measures to be put in place whenever they’re doing development near a water body,” said Sam Reeves, project co-ordinator for the LaHave River Watershed project.

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Siltation is relatively simply to prevent, he explained, through use of screens, fences and other installations.

Nova Scotia’s environment department declined to be interviewed for this story, but in an emailed statement confirmed that inspectors were dispatched on Wednesday.

“Under the Environment Act, you cannot do something that causes an adverse effect on the Environment,” wrote communications advisor Lisa Jarrett. “Sometimes, siltation can be an adverse effect, but we cannot yet say whether that is the case in this situation.”

Angling salmon in the LaHave River is currently prohibited.

A correction was made to this article at 10 a.m. AST on April 5, 2019. The title misspelled Cooks Brook as ‘Crooks Brook,’ and incorrectly stated that catch-and-release salmon fishing is permitted in the LaHave River. 

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