River Exploits

February 4, 2014

You know how frustrating it is to run into roadblocks when you’re trying to get somewhere? Think about how difficult it must be for wild Atlantic salmon whose very survival depends on a migration up a river. Obstructions in Newfoundland’s Exploits River meant salmon had to deal with a serious case of “You can’t get there from here.” Thankfully, the Environment Resources Management Association (ERMA) has made things right.

The Exploits is the largest river system in central Newfoundland, with a drainage area of some 12,000 square kilometers. That made it an ideal resource for Newfoundland’s century-old pulp and paper industry.

“The industry thrived in this area because of the vast amounts of forest resources and the river system,” says Fred Parsons, ERMA’s General Manager.

“What they did back then was set up a system to hold water in a pool, store logs in the pool and then, when the pool was full and high, open it up and float the logs down the river in the fast flow,” Parsons explains. “Other structures were built to keep the logs in the channels so they wouldn’t get trapped in gullies along the way.”

Over the years transport of the logs changed to trucks and the old structures on the river were abandoned. They deteriorated and collected debris. Eventually, many of them became total obstructions to migrating salmon.

“Drowned pulpwood upstream and downstream of the obstructions had accumulated, as well,” says Parsons. “It all added up to a significant loss of productive habitat for spawning and rearing.”

One of the key elements required for healthy fish is healthy habitat. The Exploits River has a migrating stock of approximately 50,000 salmon and is an important recreational area for anglers, canoeing, white water rafting and other related activities. ERMA has been working on development of the Exploits River as a major producer of wild Atlantic salmon for over 25 years.

During the Summer and Fall of 2011 assessments were completed on areas of the river that would benefit from removal of obstructions caused by the remains of those old wooden dams, instream log jams, old abandoned beaver dams and other barriers to the salmons’ migration. Ten sites were identified as needing immediate attention.

Funded in part by an $18,000 grant from ASCF, the organization got to work early last summer (2012), as soon as water levels and flow rate allowed. They first removed the obstructions and then placed them well above the high water line, to assure that none of the debris would re-enter the river.

With water depth and flow their only restriction, the workers managed to get all 10 sites completely cleaned out by the end of the summer.

“The success of the obstruction removal phase of the project is clearly visible,” says Fred Parsons. “With the debris gone, you can see the stream flowing well. Habitat has opened up both upstream and downstream, allowing the fish to move freely.

“We estimate that over 150 kilometres of stream are now accessible to fish passage, in some cases for the first time in many years!”

And has the fish “traffic flow” improved?

“It’s a little early to tell,” says Parsons, “but similar projects completed elsewhere on the Exploits have proven successful, with fish populations definitely using the newly restored habitat.”

So now, thanks to ERMA and its funding partners, including ASCF, the salmon can “get there from here” and continue their exploits on the Exploits River!