Monday, December 5, 2022

Health of St. Mary’s River on the rise again this year

  • May 25 2022
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    

ST. MARY’S – Ever watchful for signs of riparian health, volunteers from the St. Mary’s River Association (SMRA) are joining aquatic scientists from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to track Atlantic salmon in the storied river this spring. So far, say officials, the signs are good.

“Experienced anglers are commenting on never before seeing the size of the resident speckled trout,” reported Deirdre Green, a director of the SMRA who also writes the Atlantic Salmon Federation’s blog RiverNotes. “Once a rarity, it’s not uncommon today to catch ‘brookies’ that are over 20 inches long and 3.5 pounds on the St. Mary’s. [It’s] another undeniable sign of the health of our river and the value of protecting it.”

The recent work has involved tagging (not catching) juvenile salmon—but here, too, the results have been encouraging, said DFO Atlantic salmon research biologist David Hardie: “Working with the SMRA we were able to tag 24 kelts in April: 15 acoustic, 14 satellite—mostly multi-sea winter salmon selectively caught by SMRA volunteers and brought to holding tanks for tag implantation and recovery in a safe and comfortable setting before release back into the river. We then switched gears over to smolts.”

Kelt, Green explained, are adult Atlantic salmon that have successfully spawned in the fall and that will return to the ocean in early spring, whereas smolt are juvenile Atlantic salmon that have undergone a physiological change (smoltification), preparing them for life in salt-water. “These juveniles migrate downstream to the ocean in May and June to feed, grow and return to their home river in one-to-three years to spawn,” she said.

Noted Hardie: “Once again SMRA stepped in with help … sorting the smolt and other catches with DFO staff. [Smolt] wheels were installed to [catch at] the peak of the run for … tagging projects, and catches were good. We are just finishing up tagging 260 smolts. The association also assisted with deploying receivers, and tracking tagged fish from boats.”

The SMRA will hold its annual general meeting at the Sherbrooke Lions Hall on Sunday, May 29 at 7 p.m. Memberships can be purchased there, Green said.