ST. MARY’S — New results from a multi-year research project by the federal government prove that the St. Mary’s River is now home to “arguably the largest population of salmon in mainland Nova Scotia,” says the province’s program director for the Atlantic Salmon Federation.
But Deirdre Green, who is also a director of the St. Mary’s River Association, thinks the Department of Fisheries and Oceans — which recently released the results of its adult and juvenile tagging program for 2021 and 2022 — has only dipped its toes in the water of the river’s true potential.
According to the data, the juvenile salmon counted in the St. Mary’s over the past two years was 356, by far the largest tally observed in any of the 38 major Maritime rivers surveyed (the closest being the Campbellton with 231). This, observed Green in the most recent edition of the Atlantic Salmon Journal, “puts the St. Mary’s leaps and bounds ahead of the others.”
Added Scott Beaver, president of the St. Mary’s River Association, in that piece: “Absolutely right, there’s salmon in this river. There’s salmon all through this river.”
At the same time, Green noted, DFO stopped counting adult salmon on the St. Mary’s some time ago, because of budget cuts.
“With organizations like the St. Mary’s River Association (SMRA), Nova Scotia Salmon Association (NSSA) and Nova Scotia Nature Trust (NSNT) restoring and protecting the watershed and surrounding riparian areas, it concerns me that DFO would not place a greater emphasis on understanding what benefit this work has had on wild Atlantic salmon,” she told The Journal in an email. “With millions of dollars invested in the watershed, understanding how many salmon are returning to the river and spawning is critical to understanding if these efforts are working, and if we perhaps have a model that we can emulate in salmon recovery elsewhere.”
She added that the tagging summary speaks to the abundance of wild Atlantic salmon in the St. Mary’s River. “On rivers where recreational salmon angling exists, it is well established that the percentage of salmon caught by anglers is a mere fraction of the total population,” she said. “This begs the question: How many salmon are returning annually to spawn within Nova Scotia’s longest river? And why can DFO not accurately answer this question?”
Green said DFO has the tools to shift gears and conduct a more thorough assessment of the St. Mary’s. “There are massive gaps in data on DFO index rivers [such as the St. Mary’s] but that does not mean there are not salmon returning. There are fish being observed throughout the entire watershed – estuary to headwaters.”
In recent municipal planning consultations with residents, the St. Mary’s River has figured prominently as a centrepiece of sustainable economic and recreational development for the entire area.
Said Green: “It is my hope that with DFO’s Wild Atlantic Salmon Conservation Strategy and the Fisheries Act’s Ecologically Significant Areas, we will see a shift in the federal government’s view of Atlantic salmon on mainland Nova Scotia.”