Rennies River & SAEN

August 4, 2014

If you think there’s something “fishy” about claims that wild Atlantic salmon can be found in the rivers flowing through St. John’s, Newfoundland, don’t. Fact is, with hard work and a little luck, the municipality’s salmon population could grow significantly once the Salmon Association of Eastern Newfoundland (SAEN) completes its work.

The organization received a $15,000 grant from ASCF in 2013 for a two-year project to reintroduce salmon to the Rennies and Virginia river systems and restore and enhance access to the watersheds above Quidi Vidi Falls.

For the first part of the plan, SAEN was granted a five-year license from DFO to intercept 80 adult salmon per season from the Exploits River. The expected yield of up to 100,000 eggs per year would then be fertilized and hatched in a new in-stream incubation system developed in British Columbia.

“This is a completely new approach and, to our knowledge, the first attempt of its kind in Atlantic Canada,” says SAEN’s president, Scott Nightingale. “Because the incubators are placed right in the river, the eggs have the advantage of developing and hatching in their natural habitat.”

SAEN started off with two different types of incubators. The most successful was the Jordan/Scotty, which produced a 90% hatch rate in the units that stayed in place.

“Some of the units we tried were washed downstream and were never found,” Nightingale explains, “so this past summer we hired students to install plastic crates to house the incubators deep in the river bed in 125 places within the rivers’ five tributaries. This should ensure better results.”

And once the eggs are hatched?

“We have to anticipate the time when the smolt will migrate to sea and then return to spawn the following year,” says Nightingale. That leads us to the second phase of the project, restoration of access to the Rennie and Virginia rivers’ watersheds above Quidi Vidi Falls.

At first SAEN thought work at Quidi Vidi would entail major construction, but further examination revealed that a rudimentary old fishway with chambers and drops already exists along the north side of the falls. Perhaps a simple redirection of water flow to that structure may do the trick? SAEN now plans to test this idea by placing sandbags so that some of the river’s flow will be pushed down the existing fishway channel. Measurements will then be taken to determine whether the existing structure is fit for the job, or could be altered to handle it.

“If it works,” says Nightingale, “we may be able to devise a much simpler, less costly solution to help the salmon reach the watersheds above the falls.”

Looking ahead, SAEN hopes to build on their successes by conducting a Rennies River Watershed management survey and restoring additional salmon habitat.