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Rivernotes

ASF Rivernotes 5 Nov 2021

COMPILED BY TOM MOFFATT ~ TMOFFATT@ASF.CA

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Multi-sea-winter Atlantic salmon spawning in the Dartmouth River of Quebec's Gaspé. Photo Nick Hawkins

SEX IN THE POOL – SPAWNING TIME FOR ATLANTIC SALMON

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Three redds in a headwater stream of the Bartibog River in northeast New Brunswick, spotted on Oct. 22, 2021. Nathan Wilbur/ASF

In headwater streams from Maine and Quebec to the Pechora River cascading down from the Ural Mountains of Russia, Atlantic salmon are completing their life cycle. The females are digging redds or nests down as far as 25 cm. or more in the gravels, in areas where there is good flow and oxygenation when the eggs are laid, and as they develop through the winter.

The redds are typically located toward the tail end of a pool, just upstream of a riffle, and may include hundreds to thousands of the female’s eggs, fertilized by the male, with the gravel rescooped over the eggs.

So many Atlantic salmon mysteries have been unravelled through the past century, and one surprise has been how important a role precocious parr play in the survival of wild Atlantic salmon. A portion of young male salmon, for reasons not yet known, put their energy into becoming sexually mature while still small. They put all their energy into sneaking into the spawning drama of the huge adults, and manage to fertilize 20 to 40 per cent of the eggs. They never go to sea, and it appears they die, physiologically exhausted, after their efforts.

The precocious parr provide a third life strategy for Atlantic salmon to survive. First are the Atlantic salmon that travel to places like Greenland—or for northern European salmon to feeding grounds north of the Faroe Islands—returning as massive fish that will lay many thousands of eggs. Then there are grilse, travelling to oceanic feeding grounds but returning after a single winter at sea. They don’t go as far, but at least in some years do not suffer as much from mortality at sea. And then there are the precocious parr, that bypass the stresses and rigours of going to sea. In rivers like the Southwest Miramichi and Northwest Miramichi, they also avoid the gauntlet of death from deadly high populations of striped bass as they head to the ocean.

Recently there has been speculation that in future the precocious parr could play an even greater role as climate change occurs. Those readers very young may get to see if this proves to be true or not.

One interesting side point is that for Atlantic salmon populations declared endangered, the redds are considered a dwelling place and are to be completely protected and left undisturbed by any activity – and that would include motorized vehicles going across or down the stream.

A question could certainly be raised as to whether anglers should be out on any Atlantic salmon rivers at the end of October, when redd building activity is taking place. But that is a discussion for another season, as this is the last ASF Rivernotes of the year.

Those observing redds have spotted them in many streams so far this autumn, and we have included a few photos.

Above video of spawning salmon in McKeen Brook, where the population would be destroyed by a prospective gold mine, shows the precocious parr as well. The video was made by Nick Hawkins and Tom Cheney.

All indications are for the number of Atlantic spawners in 2021 being neither the best nor the worst of the past dozen years. This year the significant rains generally experienced in August and later certainly helped the situation. But issues certainly remain, including the higher levels of mortality at sea.

GULF REGION (SOUTHERN GULF OF ST. LAWRENCE)

A heads up that DFO would like to know your views on Atlantic salmon and Striped Bass recreational angling in their Gulf Region. Their Gulf Region includes parts of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and all Prince Edward Island. See the map below.

The deadline for filling out their questionnaire is Nov. 14, a date not far away.

For background and link to the questionnaire:

https://www.glf.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/en/Gulf/FAM/Recreational-Fisheries/Questionnaire

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Map of DFO's Gulf Region

NOVA SCOTIA

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Atlantic salmon released last week in Pictou County. Although not as bright as a fresh early summer run salmon, the hen would be considered a fresh fish by fall run standards. The estimated weight was 15 lb. Photo Jesse Gravel
Northumberland Strait Rivers

Jesse Gravel notes:

The fall salmon season on the Northumberland Strait rivers didn’t seem too bad in general. I spend most of my fishing days on a few of the rivers in Cumberland County and Pictou County.
The fall run started a little earlier than usual, compared with other recent years. We had some heavy rain early in September and that brought up a decent number of fish to kick things off. Things then slowed a bit the next few weeks with smaller rainfalls here and there but some fish were certainly around.

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A nice fall salmon of about 15 lb. is released back into a Pictou Country river by Jesse Gravel. Photo courtesy Jesse Gravel

Jesse Gravel continues:

Fishing picked up again with more heavy rain to set up anglers nicely, myself, included, for the last week of the season. 

One morning last week, I released two grilse and a hen of maybe about 15 lb. Multi fish days were not uncommon, especially when the water was nice. The fishing action did slow by the weekend when the water dropped once again, but there were still fish being hooked by anglers who were putting the time in.

By the season’s end, there were certainly some nice fish around the rivers I visited in Pictou and Cumberland counties. Definitely some happy anglers out there. 

I hope this is a sign of the positive effects of the better controlled Greenland fisheries.

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Redd in the East River Pictou in late October. Photo Connor Mackintosh

A Tale of Salmon Angling with Parkinson’s in Cape Breton

Neil MacAulay of Port Morien, Cape Breton writes about last week on the Margaree and the Baddeck:

Angling for Atlantic salmon can be frustrating. Add Parkinson’s Disease and it takes frustration to a whole new level. But there is still the excitement on the river, despite everything.

Let’s face it – the lure of the Atlantic Salmon is stronger than the comfort of the couch.

Having spent six days salmon fishing on the Margaree and Baddeck river at the end of the 2021 season, Parkinson’s made life tough, but salmon angling calls for perseverance. Tying a fly on the smallest tippet leader with shaking and trembling hands becomes a point of triumph along the way. The slowness of movement with Parkinson’s, called bradykinesia, meant that I could walk into Tent Pool faster than I could tie the first morning fly on.

The quality of fly casting really suffers, alas. The stiffness, cramping, spasm, and muscle aches all take a toll in connecting with a salmon, as does an impaired range of movements in joints. These truths have an impact, and one seeks out less fished pool.

On the afternoon of Tues., Oct. 26 at the Boar’s Back Pool, all the pain is forgotten when the line tightens. 

The line on your reel begins to spin, then the salmon leaps in the air, and dances on her tail. 

That Atlantic salmon is racing for Jim Ester’s Pool, and the spirits lift.

You tighten the reel drag, hold steady pressure while hopping down the river with your heart rate ready to explode. 

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Neil MacAuley at Jim Ester Pool on the Margaree River last week.
Neil MacAuley continues:

For the next 20 minutes Parkinson’s leaves your body.

The battle is on, you are finally able to reel the salmon in, a beautiful female approximately 10 lb.

You handle the fish with all the care of a newborn infant, the barbless white muddler easily slips out and now you hold the salmon facing the flow of the river.

A strong flick of the tail and she is gone on her way to add new life and you hope that maybe someday the granddaughters can experience this wonderful feeling previously experienced by a grandfather with shared DNA. 

I slowly make my way up the hill to the truck and the love of my life.

Parkinson’s screams I AM BACK. That’s why I fish for Atlantic salmon!!!!

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

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A fresh salmon redd created sometime over the past 12 hours, discovered on the morning of October 31. Taylor Main photo.
Taylor Main writes:

The salmon angling season on PEI is now finished.

Most would agree that it was an unusual year for the salmon returns. 

We had incredible angling conditions from mid-May right through until mid-September, where on average we received an inch of rainfall per week. 

Unfortunately the rain shut off for most of September and October, except for Sun., Oct. 24 when we received a little over an inch of rain in a matter of hours. The water came up about a foot in fairly short order, giving perfect angling conditions until mid-day Wednesday with high and coloured water. 

Those few days saved our season. Between my father and I we hooked seven Atlantic salmon in four days, landing four of them. 

Oddly enough, there were very few other anglers on the river at this time. Overall there was a reduced angling effort this fall. With the exception of the odd Saturday here and there, hardly anybody was on the water. 

Many days I  seldom met another person. I would attribute this to the late run of salmon this year, as well as the success most were experiencing with the steelhead (rainbow trout) and sea bass fisheries.

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Dave Main with a 32 in. female Atlantic salmon estimated at 12 lb. angled on Oct. 27, 2021. Steve Rafuse photo
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Inspecting a 35 in. male Atlantic salmon taken by Steve Rafuse on Oct. 23, 2021. Steve is removing the fly from the salmon's mouth. Salmon on PEI don’t get much bigger than this. Peter Denouden photo.
Taylor Main continues:

Over the next two weeks the local watershed groups will begin conducting redd counts to gauge salmon returns across the Island. 

Almost all of our fish are very late run and I’ve anecdotally noted that their arrival and any subsequent spawning activities have been pushed back by approximately two to three weeks over the past 12 or so seasons. 

Two positives worth touching on this year would be the increased number of grilse taken during the trout season on the West River. Credible reports peg this number as approaching two dozen fish having been taken between June and Sept. 15. 

The Morell River comparatively had far fewer fish taken over the summer months. Most sightings and catches in the fall were of larger 12+ lb Multi-sea-winter salmon, many of which were female. This should  reflect in an increased redd count for 2021 – we hope.

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Riley Kelly with a female multi-sea-winter Atlantic salmon in the fish trap on the West branch of the Morell River. The salmon was taken to the Abegweit Biodiversity Enhancement Hatchery for the PEI fish Enhancement program.

Kris Hunter, ASF Director of Programs in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, writes:

Hannah Murnaghan Watershed Coordinator from Morell River Management Cooperative reports that they caught their first fish for broodstock on the Morell River. Riley Kelly with a Female MSW Atlantic salmon in the fish trap on the West branch of the Morell River. On the same day they found their first Atlantic salmon redd of the season on the West Branch of the Morell River.

Kris Hunter also visited the site of the current deflector on the North River, just above Milton Pond.

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Deflector on the North River, to help maintain current and appropriate scouring in the stream. Kris Hunter/ASF
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Cornwall & Area Watershed Group's Watershed Coordinator Karalee McAskill at the site of the North River's new deflector. Kris Hunter/ASF

NEW BRUNSWICK

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The Pass on the lower Nepisiguit River. Nathan Wilbur/ASF
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Paul Lenihan casting on 22 Oct. 2021 at the Flats on the Nepisiguit. Nathan Wilbur/ASF
Nathan Wilbur, ASF Director of Regional Programs, says:

A few dedicated anglers stuck it out right ‘til the end in New Brunswick, taking advantage of some of the longer season up north on the Jacquet, Nepisiguit, Bartibog, Tabusintac and other rivers. 

However, conditions were tough with very high water. 

The anglers I spoke to had not seen many salmon in the high water, despite the relatively good run of fish on the Nepisiguit. 

Salmon were most likely moving out of the pools and into the tributaries and spreading out in the river preparing to spawn. 

On the Bartibog, there was evidence of spawning activity already, with three redds visible at the tail end of one of the pools. 

The river hydraulics were perfect at this location with the pressure of the water pushing down into the gravel to oxygenate the eggs. 

The best of the best wild salmon that survived their round trip in the ocean sure know how to find the best spots to deposit their eggs, ensuring the best chance of survival for the next generation. 

Although most salmon anglers went fishless over the final days, it was nice to close the season casting a line in a good flow of water and meeting some new friends along the way.

Jacquet River

The counting fence numbers for Oct. 31 are 97 large salmon and 64 grilse, compared with 185 and 85 grilse in 2020 and 87 and 45 grilse in 2019.

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Beautiful conditiions on the Bartibog on 22 Oct. 2021. Nathan Wilbur/ASF

Nashwaak River

The Campbell Creek dam removal is complete, and as with all such projects, it was a result of many partners working together for a common goal.

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Working together to improve fish passage - the Campbell Creek group Front – L to R: Nathan Wilbur, Jillian Hudgins (City of Fredericton, formerly Nashwaak Watershed Assoc for most of the project), Natalie Deseta (NWAI) Rear – L to R: Tim Plant (St. Mary’s First Nation), Adam Young (Hilcon Consulting), Jody Boone (City of Fredericton). Missing: Kaleb Zelman and Aruna Jayawardane, Maliseet Nation Conservation Council Photo by Ian Miller
Miramichi

Some of the counting fence data for Oct 31, 2021 is now posted by DFO.

Dungarvon Barrier, a monitor of a Southwest Miramichi tributary, has 131 large salmon and 106 grilse, compared with 70 large salmon and 88 grilse to the same date in 2020 and 91 large salmon and 124 grilse in 2019.

Northwest Protection Barrier on the Northwest Miramichi has had 98 large salmon and 193 grilse to Oct. 31, compared with 131 large salmon and 121 grilse in 2020, and in 2019 165 grilse and 55 large salmon.

NEWFOUNDLAND

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While this set of counts on the island of Newfoundland are not new, this is an appropriate time to look back on the season numbers. While several have improved numbers, runs in rivers on the south coast, like the Conne, are worrisome.

Don Ivany, ASF Director of Programs in Newfoundland, was encouraged by the recent decision by the province to send the environmental impact assessment document on the Valentine Gold Project back to the company for more detailed information. This mine project would be on the upper Exploits River watershed, and could jeopardize one of the half dozen most productive Atlantic salmon rivers in Canada.

Don Ivany also had an opportunity on Wed., Nov. 3, to inspect some of the rivers in the middle section of the west coast.

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Robinson's River just above the TransCanada Highway bridge. Don Ivany/ASF
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The Forks, where Bottom Brook joins Southwest Brook. The deciduous trees now have bare branches. Undoubtedly redd building is going on in the headwater pools and riffles. Don Ivany/ASF
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Southwest Brook near it's estuary, with the surrounding forest now losing colour as autumn fades towards winter. Don Ivany/ASF

MAINE

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In the headwaters of the Sandy River, a tributary of the Kennebec, redds were spotted from spawning Atlantic salmon. Photo Mattea Powers
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Milford Fishlift numbers to Oct. 31, 2021 on the Penobscot River.
Penobscot

A somewhat disappointing year on the Penobscot, but certainly numbers to build on . At the Milford Dam the count is 582 salmon as of Oct. 31.

The lastest overview of Maine river counts is below.

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Cummings Brook, Temple Stream

Maranda Nemeth of ASF writes:

The Cummings Brook Road Crossing was completed last week reconnecting 3.6 miles of cold-water rearing habitat to Temple Stream as part of our restoration work in the watershed to improve stream habitat and infrastructure resilience in the Sandy River watershed. The Sandy River is part of the larger Kennebec watershed.

The first road crossing was completed last year in 2020.

In 2022 we will remove the Walton’s Mill Dam and renovate the public park. Then in 2023, another undersized road crossing will be replaced. 

The combined investment will significantly restore fish passage across the Temple Stream watershed where some of the most productive spawning and rearing habitat lie in the Upper Kennebec for Atlantic salmon.

ASF was only able to complete the road crossing replacements thanks to a partnership with the Town of Farmington, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Maine Department of Marine Resources, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Audubon, Trout & Salmon Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Eagle Creek.

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The crossing prior to the replacement consisted of three, undersized and deteriorating metal pipes that created a fish passage barrier and severed the aquatic environment of Cummings Brook. The road also consistently flooded and lacked any guardrails creating a problematic site for the Town of Farmington.
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The Cummings Brook Road Crossing project was completed in October 2021. Along with aquatic restoration, public safety and resilience was improved with the new open bottom bridge which will effectively pass 100-year storms not causing road flooding.
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Clover Mill Road Crossing as seen this fall was replaced in 2020 in Farmington as part of the Temple Stream restoration effort.
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This time next year, adult Atlantic salmon will be able to access these 52 miles of high-quality habitat in Temple Stream for the first time in over 200 years.

THE FINAL, FINAL WORD

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Tom Moffatt
This is the final ASF Rivernotes of 2021, but at a different level, this is probably my final Rivernotes as I am retiring from the Atlantic Salmon Federation at year’s end.

In the 20 plus years I have been at ASF, I have appreciated how dedicated ALL the staff have been to improving the future of wild Atlantic salmon and have taken great pride in being part of an effort that has unravelled so many of the mysteries surrounding the migration of this magnificent species and continues to address the array of issues facing the iconic Atlantic salmon.

The passion for Atlantic salmon, its rivers, and its international heritage is shared by many, on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and it has been an honour to consider myself one of those so afflicted.

As many have guessed, my own perspective is that of a field naturalist, harking back to an education geared to field biology, and time working as an interpretive naturalist and for several years diverting to be a twice weekly newspaper editor serving a cross-border community in New Brunswick and Maine. Additionally, for some years I was the Canadian co-chair of the International St. Croix Waterway Commission, and like many, have been dismayed by the difficult array of issues impacting Atlantic salmon in this border river. Through these same years I enjoyed exploring rivers, mountains and inshore waters of Maine and Atlantic Canada and beyond, and have seen first hand how the Atlantic salmon is a core part of our shared heritage across the northeast of our continent.

In bringing a “field-based” approach to Atlantic salmon that draws together the angling perspective with that of the researchers and other users, it has been the species and its history that have been central.

The Atlantic salmon is a key species in our rivers and oceans, and we need to do all we can to insure it is abundant in generations yet to come.

Tom Moffatt