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ASF Rivernotes 6 Nov 2020

Compiled by Tom Moffatt

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A cold fall day on the Sandy River in Maine where recent redd counts have uncovered an encouraging level of spawning activity. Photo Kirstin Underwood/USFWS


This will be our last regular River Notes blog for 2020, a year no one will forget. Amongst the raging headlines about the pandemics and elections, wild Atlantic salmon had a relatively good year.

Something went better at sea this winter and spring. It seems more salmon survived, perhaps a combination of improved environmental conditions and a reduced total harvest at Greenland thanks to the conservation agreement between ASF, the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, and Greenland commercial fishermen.

DFO, U.S., and Quebec scientists will now begin the process of collecting data from trap nets and counting facilities, analyzing the numbers, and estimating total returns. That will take some time, but the true test of the strength of this year’s returns comes five years from now, when the first of the eggs laid in rivers this month and last will return from the sea as adults.


At Rocky Brook, a phenomenal tributary of the Southwest Miramichi, a recent redd count found four times more salmon egg nests than in recent years, and the highest total number since 2001.

On the Sandy River, a tributary of the Kennebec in Maine, the redd count was also substantial this year, considering there were only 51 salmon trapped and trucked from an impassable dam lower in the system.

So how do these fish find their way back home after at least a full winter spent in the North Atlantic?

Their partially driven by magnetic fields and an imprinted smell of their home river. Salmon have such strong receptors that individuals can detect a single drop of certain chemical in water equivalent to the volume of 10-Olympic sized swimming pools

Three unique life strategies developed over thousands of years act as an evolutionary safeguard for the species.

Multi-sea winter fish that spend two or more winters in the rich waters off west Greenland are like a Maritimer heading for Alberta, in better days perhaps, to work far from home for big reward.

Grilse, adult salmon that spend a single winter at sea, not travelling all the way to Greenland, are like the kid from Cape Breton moving to Halifax for a time – more resources, but a shorter distance to home.

The third life strategy, used by so-called precocious parr, is comparable to never leaving your home town. These tiny males but all their energy into becoming sexually mature, not growing large. They stay put in the stream where they were born and when larger adults are in the act, these sneaky parr dart in and add their genetic material to the mix.

It’s believed that precocious parr can fertilize up to 30 per cent of all eggs in some rivers, proof that life takes all kinds.

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A crew from ASF and the Maine Department of Marine Resources survey the Sandy River. Photo John Burrows/ASF
On Nov. 4, 2020, ASF’s Executive Director of U.S. Programs, John Burrows, joined staff from Maine’s Department of Marine Resources on the Sandy River searching for redds. A greater number than usual were observed, a positive sign for this high-quality habitat.
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Clear water in the Sandy River makes searching for redds easier. John Burrows/ASF


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Sisson Brook, a salmon spawning area, where it meets the Nashwaak River on Nov. 3, 2020. Photo Nathan Wilbur/ASF
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Nashwaak River in the cold of early morning, 4 Nov., 2020. Nathan Wilbur/ASF
There is excellent news from Rocky Brook and Clearwater Brook, two tributaries of the the Southwest Miramichi.

At the end of October, a team from Rocky Brook Camp did a count on both streams and posted some impressive numbers. On Rocky Brook, 218 redds were counted, the highest figure since 2011, and on Clearwater there were 112, the best since 2008.

St. John River

The final 2020 numbers are in for salmon returning to the Mactaquac Dam, and sadly the spiral to anthropogenic extirpation on this once great river continues.

Their were 146 large salmon this year compared to 192 in 2019. For grilse, there 346 to Oct. 31, vs 507 to the same date in 2019.


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Deirdre Green returns her final Atlantic salmon of the 2020 season to the James River in the Antigonish County. Photo Deirdre Green

The Atlantic salmon angling season in Nova Scotia closed at sundown on Halloween. Salmon culture is strong in the Bluenose province, especially in northern Nova Scotia, along the Northumberland Strait and in Cape Breton. In both regions there are several unsung, smaller rivers, that reward the patient angler with large fish every year.


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Don Ivany and Jesse Noel install a "Beaver Baffler" on Deadwater Brook a tributary of the upper Humber River. Don Ivany/ASF

Don Ivany, ASF’s Director of Programs in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Jesse Noel from Wood Engineering and Environmental Consultants, helped to install a two step “beaver baffler” recently on Deadwater Brook, a major spawning tributary located in the Humber River watershed. This is the second beaver baffler installed on this stream this fall. The beaver bafflers are designed to let migrating salmon bypass beaver dams without having to notch or remove them. This project is being led by the World Wildlife Federation in partnership with ASF, SPAWN, and other volunteers.

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Hughes Brook in western Newfoundland will soon feel the effects of winter. Right now it is excellent spawning habitat for wild Atlantic salmon. Don Ivany/ASF


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2020 on the Cascapedia was the best in the last five years, with many large, healthy fish. Photo Dan Greenberg

Charles Cusson, ASF’s Director of Programs in Quebec writes:

Preliminary numbers indicate the 2020 season to be 3rd best since 1984 and best since 2015 in regard to fish landings. To September 30th for the season, 2,503 salmon were reported released and 5 grilse harvested for a total of 2,508.

The 2011 season resulted in all time high of 2,713 fish being landed, 2,615 salmon released, 43 salmon and 55 grilse harvested.

Pendant la saison qui s’est terminée le 30 septembre dernier, les pêcheurs sportifs ont déclaré 2,508 prises comprenant 2 503 saumons remis à l’eau et la récolte de 5 madeleineaux.

Au fait, la saison 2020 se classe au 3e rang depuis 1984 et la plus productive depuis 2015 au niveau des prises.

Le meilleur rendement a eu lieu en 2011 lorsque 2,713 prises fut déclarées comprenant 2,615 saumons remis a l’eau et la récolte de 43 saumons et 55 madeleineaux.

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2020 Cascapedia season
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2019 Cascapedia season
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2018 Cascapedia season


Overall it may have been a good year for Atlantic salmon here in North America. Plus indications it was a good year in many European areas. Yet because of Covid-19 pandemic restrictions on researchers, the assessment is likely to be more difficult.

In the end we will need to have a greater degree of confidence that the Atlantic salmon themselves know what they are doing, and will be the stronger for it in 2021.