An endangered species once found in the thousands in the river waters of Fundy National Park is finally making a comeback like never before.
“It is a tremendously encouraging sign and we are super excited about it,” said John Whitelaw, Fundy National Park’s species at risk ecologist.
Whitelaw said that 102 Inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic salmon have returned from the ocean to spawn in the Upper Salmon River and Point Wolf River within the park since July. He said that is the highest annual number recorded since 1989.
“We don’t get a lot of wins in this business for the amount of work we put in and as folks can appreciate, trying to recover an endangered species is a challenging feat,” Whitelaw said.
Roughly 40,000 Inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic salmon once populated 40 rivers in the east, a number that has in recent years dropped to 100 or less. “It has experienced a really drastic decline in the last three decades,” Whitelaw said.
For the past five years, researchers with the Fundy Salmon Recovery Project have been collecting juveniles hatched in the river to be reared to maturity at the world’s first wild Atlantic salmon marine conservation farm on Grand Manan island run by Cooke Aquaculture, Whitelaw said.
He said the premise of the research project is to limit human contact with the fish.
“The less time fish can be in the captive environment, the stronger they are and the better equipped they are to survive in the wild,” he said.
Those wild-like salmon were released back into the rivers with the hope they would return home to spawn. Kurt Samways, a UNB professor and Parks Canada’s Aquatic Restoration Research Chair, said that their numbers have far exceeded expectations.
“When we first started seeing these fish returning and we were getting the numbers, I could not believe it,” Samways said.
Samways said the success of the project is offering hope to biologists who hope to bring the salmon back from the brink of extinction.
He said what is also remarkable is that the fish that were released just two years ago have changed their looks and behaviour.
“We have seen these fish progress to look and act more wild-like,” he said.
Their adaptation is cause for celebration because the more wild-like the fish become, the better their chances of survival, Samways said.