Scientific work may lead to wild salmon in Grand Lake system
Gary Kean, Aug. 10, 2013
CORNER BROOK Before Junction Brook was dammed off in the 1920s as part of the hydroelectricity project to power the paper mill being built in Corner Brook, it likely boasted some impressive runs of Atlantic salmon.
For more than eight decades since, salmon returning to the Humber River system have not been able to fully navigate Junction Brook, one of the river’s main tributaries.
That cut the massive Grand Lake system, including Sandy Lake and Birchy Lake, off as spawning grounds for Atlantic salmon. There are salmon in those lakes, but they are land-locked salmon that have never been able to reach the sea in almost a century.
The Salmon Preservation Association for the Waters of Newfoundland (SPAWN) hopes to change that, but the process will take some time.
The first steps of reintroducing wild salmon back to the Grand Lake system are being taken by SPAWN, with the help of federal funding from the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Fund and the scientific help of the provincial inland fish and wildlife division of the Department of Environment and Conservation.
Rob Perry, the senior wildlife biologist with the department, and summer student Christian Hobbs have been collecting samples of salmon par from the many tributaries of the Humber River. The plan is to analyze the DNA of these young salmon and compare them to samples of land-locked salmon that will be taken from Grand Lake to see if a match can be found.
“The samples are being put together at the College of the North Atlantic here in Corner Brook and will then be sent to a post-graduate student at Memorial University in St John’s who will prepare a report for SPAWN,” said Keith Cormier, president of SPAWN.
That report will likely not be ready until at least early 2014.
If a match can be found, those fish would be the best candidates for restocking Junction Brook.
There is another enormous obstacle standing in the way of completing the project. The main dam on Junction Brook does not have a fishway and would need a mechanism for salmon to get past the massive structure in order to reach the spawning grounds.
Cormier said it’s not impossible.
“The Columbia River in Oregon state is a huge river that has eight big dams on it and they all have fishways,” he said.
Discussions about building a fishway are a long way down the road at any rate, said Cormier.
“Right now, the main thing is to get the science done just to see what matches are there,” he said.
Reviving runs of wild Atlantic salmon has been successfully done before. The Corner Brook Stream had salmon fry released in it years ago and now, thanks to new fishways built on its two small dams, it is seeing sea-run salmon coming back to the stream.
“It’s an interesting project for us because it follows along with what we do as a conservation group trying to preserve and enhance the numbers of wild Atlantic salmon coming back for the residents of Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Cormier.