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Cobourg Creek restoration a cooperative success story

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Cobourg Creek restoration a cooperative success story

Stage set for return of Atlantic salmon to local creek




Oct 09, 2009




COBOURG -- Thanks, in part, to local efforts to clean up and enhance the quality of water in Cobourg Creek, Atlantic salmon may soon return to spawn in the creek and its tributaries.


Terry Quinney, fish and wildlife services provincial manager with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), provided Cobourg councillors with an update on the Lake Ontario Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program, at the Oct. 5 committee of the whole meeting. The program, with over 30 public and private partners, targets three water courses; the Cobourg Creek, Duffins Creek (Durham Region), the Credit River (Toronto).


Mr. Quinney told council that the town, along with the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority and with help from community volunteers, has done a wonderful job at enhancing the water quality in the creek.


“Atlantic salmon are finicky creatures,” he said. “Hopefully we will soon see the return of the salmon to spawn in Cobourg Creek and in the longer term, the return of recreational and commercial fishing for Atlantic salmon in the area.”


Atlantic salmon have a 12,000 year history in Ontario, he explained. Lake Ontario was once home to the Atlantic salmon, however, by 1896, the species was wiped out due to dam building, farming and development on its spawning streams, and over-fishing in both the streams and the lake. Atlantic salmon was one of the first species in Canada to be eliminated through human activities.


The program features a four-pronged restoration strategy over a 15-to 20-year time frame: fish production and stocking; habitat restoration and water quality enhancement; research and monitoring; and education and outreach, said Mr. Quinney. Now entering the five-year mark, the program has stocked 1.6 million fish within the three targeted tributaries. On the local front, students at Cobourg District Collegiate Institutes East and West, and other area classrooms, have worked hand-in-hand with the initiative, hosting hatching aquariums and successfully raising eggs to the fry stage before releasing them into the local creek.


The goal of the program is to get the hatchlings to return to the creek to spawn. This year, the program saw 10 local habitat restorations (planting trees along the stream), a stream clean-up day, one fencing/crossing project, plus 17,000 yearling salmon stocked in April, 112,000 fry stocked in May, and with a planned stocking of 60,000 fall fingerlings over the next three weeks, he said.


Chris Robinson, Lake Ontario Atlantic aalmon restoration program coordinator, said there is someone from OFAH in the Cobourg stream eight months of the year, whether it be staff members, graduate students, summer students or technicians. Currently, a crew of three from the Cobourg Creek Adult Assessment Team spends its days at the Cobourg Creek Golf Course, at Ontario and Elgin streets, in the pond just below the old dam at the ninth hole, said Mr. Robinson. The crew on the lookout for Atlantic salmon and when they spot one, they will gently give the fish a lift over the dam. Hopefully, the fish will spawn and continue the life cycle necessary to ensure the former locally extinct fish will once again populate Lake Ontario and its tributaries.


“This dam has probably been here over 200 years and it’s too high for Atlantic salmon to get over,” he said. “In the longer term, it’s hoped to build a way around the dam that the fish can navigate but for now, they need a lift.”


According to the OFAH, Atlantic salmon live in oceans or freshwater lakes and migrate up river in fall to spawn. The egg incubate in gravel nests over winter and hatch in early spring, The young salmon stay in the streams one to three years, before migrating to open water, where they spend at least a year maturing into adults. Some type of internal homing device gives the adult salmon the ability to return to its hatching ground year after year to spawn the next generation.



For more information about the program, visit www.bringbackthesalmon.ca.



Sidebar: Atlantic salmon


- Records indicate Atlantic salmon as heavy as 45 pounds were once caught in Lake Ontario.

- Historically, 40 Lake Ontario tributaries supported strong Atlantic salmon runs.

- Atlantic salmon were once so abundant, early settlers would harvest them by the barrel.

- In the 1860s, Samuel Wilmot built the first government-sponsored fish hatchery on Wilmot Creek (in neigbouring Newcastle) as an attempt in reverse the decline of the Atlantic salmon population.

- Freshwater Atlantic salmon exist in Quebec, Newfoundland, Michigan, Vermont and Maine.

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