CORNER BROOK Christian Hobbs has gained a new appreciation this summer for how important it is to preserve Atlantic salmon stocks.
“When you open the trap and see four or five fish sitting in the trap and you open up the gate and let them go it’s pretty interesting to watch them,” said Hobbs.
Hobbs has been working with SPAWN (the Salmon Preservation Association for the Waters of Newfoundland) this summer monitoring the group’s counting trap on the Corner Brook Stream below the Glynmill Inn Pond.
As of Monday, 104 salmon passed through the counting trap and headed for the pond and further up Corner Brook Stream where some of them will eventually spawn.
“It’s great,” said Hobbs of the experience. “I like salmon fishing and when I found out that I was going to be able to help out just here in Corner Brook with salmon preservation, I just thought that was going to be pretty interesting.”
Hobbs said he hasn’t had much luck in the angling department this year so getting to watch the fish on a daily basis has been a real bonus.
He said the counting trap is checked daily for fish that come in from the Humber River via the Bay of Islands.
“They’ll come in from the bay and they’ll work their way up the stream until they reach the dam here,” said Hobbs while standing next to the fence around the dam.
Once they get to the dam, Hobbs said they’ll find they can’t get past it, but that doesn’t stop them from trying.
“I’ve seen fish jump there,” he said looking towards the water around the dam.
After a while the salmon will discover the ladder system and make their way into and through it.
“There’s little spots in each one and they’ll swim up to one hole and they can sit there and then they’ll go up to the next.”
It could take a few days, but eventually they’ll find themselves in the trap at the top of the ladder. It’s there that the counting takes place.
Hobbs said the trap will be opened and can be raised to provide a better view of any salmon that may be in it. “I think the most we’ve seen at one time this year has been nine,” he said.
Once the salmon are counted, a gate on the trap is opened and the fish move into the pond and further up the stream.
Keith Cormier is the president of SPAWN. He said the stream had an active salmon population prior to what is now Corner Brook Pulp and Paper being built. But after the paper mill put a dam on the stream at the bottom of the Glynmill Inn Pond, which serves as an industrial water supply for the mill, the population virtually disappeared.
About 12 years ago SPAWN started putting young fry back in the swimming pool area of the stream at Margaret Bowater Park in conjuction with the Atlantic Salmon Federation’s Fish Friends program. Cormier said they did that for seven or eight years, but never really checked to see what happened after.
“When they (Corner Brook Pulp and Paper) were redoing the dam a suggestion was made through us and DFO (the Department of Fisheries and Oceans) that they put a fish ladder on it.”
SPAWN has been monitoring activity on the ladder for five years.
Cormier said the numbers of Atlantic salmon going through the trap this year are on par with what have been observed in other years. He said the highest ever recorded in a year was 147 and the lowest was 107. And Cormier considers those numbers to be a positive sign.
“It’s really good to see salmon back in that stream,” said Cormier. “When salmon are in the stream it’s a sign of a clean environment.”
In fact, he said, DFO has told SPAWN that, given the amount of limited spawning habitat there is in the stream, 50 fish would be the minimum spawning requirement to keep it healthy. He said the organization has counted more than 100 each year since it started keeping track.
“The encouraging thing for us is that about 20 per cent of the run is multi-sea-winter fish — that’s fish that are over 63 centimetres,” said Cormier.
He said keeping the stream healthy for salmon to thrive is an important initiative for SPAWN which conducts an annual stream cleanup. He also gives a lot of credit to Corner Brook Pulp and Paper for its efforts to treat the effluent generated by newsprint production that ends up in the bay around the mouth of the stream.
“It’s in our hometown, so it’s important that we have wild Atlantic salmon back,” he said. “Even though it’s small numbers and probably will never ever be open for angling, it’s good to have wild Atlantic salmon back right in the middle of the City of Corner Brook.”