POLITICS: Ottawa giving up on protecting endangered salmon and whitefish.

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Ottawa to close fish facility

Atlantic Salmon, Salmo salar, Taken thru glas,...

Atlantic Salmon, Salmo salar

June 17, 2012 – 4:13am BY AARON BESWICK TRURO BUREAU

Mersey River hatchery, gene bank has programs for salmon, whitefish

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is closing a hatchery and gene banking facility for two endangered species of fish.

The Mersey Biodiversity Centre, near Liverpool, is a hatchery and gene bank for Bay of Fundy salmon and Atlantic whitefish.

The Atlantic whitefish is found in a couple of ponds around Bridgewater and nowhere else in the world. Bay of Fundy salmon have been listed as an endangered species. And the federal department is currently examining the possibility of listing salmon populations from rivers along the province’s Atlantic coast as endangered species.

“This is dollars being cut by people in Ottawa who don’t know the ramifications of their decisions,” said David Dagley, secretary for the Queens County Fish and Game Association.

“The targeted closure date we hear is somewhere in 2014, but you can’t run a facility that’s going to close, so we expect to start seeing the effects in 2013.”

Salmon and whitefish conservation organizations are warning that closing the facility threatens the recovery of both
species.

From a high of six hatcheries about 30 years ago, Fisheries and Oceans is down to two in Nova Scotia, one at Mersey River, Queens County, the other at Coldbrook, Kings County.

Each river has a unique salmon population that returns to it to spawn after at least a year at sea. High marine mortality and acidification of rivers caused by acid rain has led to steep declines in salmon populations returning to Bay of Fundy and Atlantic coast rivers.

The Mersey River hatchery works in conjunction with the one in Coldbrook to breed and release salmon that have the correct genes for each river.

The gene-banking program has also kept sample populations from various rivers alive in captivity in the hope that if at-sea survival and river conditions improve, native populations could be restocked.

Dagley, whose organization has been working with the Mersey facility for about 30 years, said salmon are collected from their home rivers and spawned at Mersey. The eggs hatch and grow over the winter and are either released in the spring or taken to Coldbrook to grow larger over the summer in its cool water.

Mersey has the ability to adjust water temperatures, while Coldbrook does not, Dagley said.

“Mersey is the production facility,” he said. “Coldbrook raises a few fish but is very limited in capacity. They work in conjunction and need each other as facilities.

“Our expectation is that government can’t recover rivers on the South Shore using only Coldbrook.”

In an emailed response to questions from The Chronicle Herald, Fisheries and Oceans confirmed it would end the Atlantic whitefish program and that salmon gene banking would be consolidated between Coldbrook and a site in New Brunswick.

“There will be some realignment of priorities, which may change how Atlantic salmon gene banking activities are done,” the email says.

“We will be reviewing our activities at each location and as a result, the Mactacquac and Coldbrook sites may take on a portion of the Atlantic salmon work that was done at Mersey in the past while the Atlantic Whitefish captive breeding activities at Mersey will conclude.”

That’s not good enough for Lewis Hinks.

The director of Nova Scotia programs for the Atlantic Salmon Federation acknowledged that the effectiveness of salmon stocking programs is controversial, but said when it is combined with gene banking, it is an important part of maintaining the genetic diversity of threatened salmon populations.

“We need more of these facilities, not less,” said Hinks.

The province operates its own hatcheries but their focus is on brown trout.

The Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture only operates one full-time salmon hatchery, on the Margaree River, with some additional work being done at Fraser’s Mills hatchery in Guysborough County.

“We don’t have the capacity to take on any of the federal programs,” said Don MacLean, the department’s director of inland fisheries.

“They have very good programs at Mersey with a highly trained staff and losing that capacity is a concern to the province.”

(abeswick@herald.ca)

 

 


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