Eel River

November 4, 2014

Reviving the social, cultural and spiritual relationship with Eel River

It will take years to undo the cultural and ecological impact of a dam that was installed in 1963 on Eel River, just above the Eel River Bar First Nation in northeastern New Brunswick.  The dam was installed to provide water for industry in the nearby area of Dalhousie, but it resulted in marked changes to the character of the river and its associated ecological community. It limited the passage of fish upstream and caused deterioration of natural resources within the Eel River watershed.

“In the First Nation community, the dam had a human impact, changing a way of life that was rooted in the Eel River—its resources and its surroundings. Removal of the dam in 2010 has spurred hope that the river can once again become a positive, steadying influence on the area,” says Wenona LaBillois, Fishery Coordinator Assistant with Eel River Bar First Nation.

A Steering Committee of stakeholders oversaw the work of decommissioning the dam. Then with an eye to the future, an Aquatic Sub-Committee (ASC) was set up to seek support and funding for a recovery project that would include improving clam population and habitat upstream and downstream of the former Eel River dam. Members of the Eel River Bar First Nations were hired, and a recovery team was developed.Since 2011, the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation provided $34,300 for the recovery project.

The recovery team gained valuable field skills, thanks to the support of other stakeholders. “Our team went through training from the University of New Brunswick for electrofishing, then we went out with the Department of Natural Resources to survey some sites with them until the team was comfortable on its own,” says LaBillois. “The Charlo Fish Hachery provided training on how to operate a counting fence and recognize salmon redds. Watershed Technologies also helped with training and expert advice.”

After training, the recovery team was able to complete a number of tasks, including: a data baseline on soft shell clams; an obstruction survey; a habitat survey; and a redd count survey. A counting fence also was successfully installed last year, and 80 salmon were counted between September and November.

“For the First Nation community, a lot of the teachings and way of life were linked to the river,” says LaBillois. “It wasn’t just a resource; it was a connection. The hope is that the workshop will revive that awareness of traditional values and respect for the river and its resources—the social, cultural and spiritual relationship we once had with the watershed.”

The river’s restoration is expected to take at least a decade.