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Restoring the Salmon to Lake Ontario

Updated on December 11, 2013

Background Information

This hub is about a story of hope. It is a story of how we humans, the most intelligent race on this planet, have the capability to extirpate the other natural species. It is also a story of how we humans have the power to bring back the extirpated species, if we so strongly desire. It is a story of my trip to the Duffins creek and the research, before and after that eventful trip on 30 September, 2013. It is a story of a species that was officially declared extirpated in 1896 AD in this part of the world, and is now on its way to being brought back to a self-sustaining life cycle, hopefully in the next 10 - 15 years.

It is a story of how no challenge is too big for us humans if we set about doing the right things, through dedicated research, focused initiatives and community involvement. Read on to get a view of my perspective on this epic restoration project.

Introduction

What is anadromous (able to live in both fresh and salt or sea water); has the capability to jump about 12 feet in the air and can swim up to 30 kms/ hour & up to about 2500 kms?

It is a fish called the Atlantic Salmon, which has been described by some as the 'King of the Fishes'. This description has been given because of the long journey that this fish makes over its lifetime - it is born in fresh water streams; spending its early years there too, and then finds its way to the feeding grounds of the Atlantic Ocean. It returns to its place of birth for spawning. These fish have a great sense of smell and it is said that this fish can detect one drop of scent in 10 Olympic size swimming pools. Its return to its birthplace for spawning is majorly attributed to this strong sense of smell, besides other factors like magnetic sensing, stars, etc.

This fish is also known by the name of Salmo Salar; Salmo in Latin means Salmon and Salar meaning leaper; a name that is based on its tremendous leaping capability. It forms part of the Salmonidae family, which is distinguished from the other fish by the presence of the adipose fin along with a prominent lateral line. The Salmonidae family comprises of Salmons, Trouts, Chars, Whitefish and Graylings.


Fall is the Spawning Season.

Atlantic Salmons making their way upstream for spawning in Duffins Creek on 30 Sep 13, in Greenwood Conservation Area, Ontario, Canada
Atlantic Salmons making their way upstream for spawning in Duffins Creek on 30 Sep 13, in Greenwood Conservation Area, Ontario, Canada | Source

Atlantic Salmon in Lake Ontario

As can be seen in the photograph above, the Atlantic Salmon is a large silvery fish with small black spots above the lateral line, over the entire body of the fish. On some fish the large number of black spots are so close that it gives a darkish appearance to the fish. The fish can also be spotted in different colours ranging from silver to bronze to mildly greenish or bluish. The fish has an average size of 18 inches, and weighs about 2-4 pounds; though a relatively recent Ontario record of this fish, that was caught in lake Ontario in 1989, has been a length of 35 inches and weighing 24.3 pounds.

Most Atlantic Salmons proceed to the sea after spending two or more years in the fresh water rivers where they hatched. In the Atlantic sea, they feed in the cold waters of the North Atlantic in the regions around Greenland. They return to the same fresh water rivers where they once hatched, for spawning, However certain species like the lake Ontario salmons, are fully or partially landlocked and spend their entire life in the fresh waters of lake Ontario. They have adapted to the freshwater life after having moved in to the lake during the post glacial periods. Historically, 40 tributaries in Lake Ontario supported runs of Atlantic salmon.

This fish was worshipped by the aboriginal people living around the lake in the earlier era before the European settlers first moved in to North America. This fish also formed an important part of the aboriginal peoples diet. Early European settlers in North America were familiar with the Salmon and they too consumed the salmon as an important part of their diet. It has been suggested that easy availability of this then abundant fish encouraged settlement around the lakes. These settlements in turn led to increased commercial and recreational exploitation of the species, in the lakes.

At the same time, there were increasing human settlements in the area around the lakes leading to deforestation to facilitate utilisation of land for agriculture. Also over the years other activities to support human settlements were being undertaken by humans, in the form of building water mills/ dams, industries, etc. leading to poor stream quality, river bank erosion, changes in river flows, and silting of the rivers. All this led to a loss of the spawning habitat for the salmons in the 40 odd tributaries feeding in to lake Ontario.

Increased commercial fishing and loss of spawning habitat in the tributaries led to a decline of the Atlantic salmon in lake Ontario. This decline was observed in the latter half of the 19th century, when efforts were made to restore or at least maintain the population of the salmons in lake Ontario. In 1866, Samuel Wilmot established the first government-sponsored fish hatchery in North America in Newcastle, Ontario. This effort seemed to pay off initially, as population increases were observed in many streams, but the increase was not sustainable and the numbers fell off again with observers reporting very few fish around 1881. It is documented that "the species was officially declared extirpated in 1896, and the last reliable report of a harvested Atlantic salmon was in 1898".

Few more efforts at restoration were undertaken, commencing 1940. However, these were all unsuccessful due to environmental degradation and ecological damage to the habitat. It was felt that there was a need to re-build the degraded ecosystem for the salmon to be restored to lake Ontario. Decades of concerted efforts at pollution control have led to improved ecosystems in the tributaries to lake Ontario. This coupled with extensive research by Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources demonstrated that it was possible for the salmon to be restored in lake Ontario. Similar initiatives were also underway in the US, on the Southern side of the lake, with positive results. This gave an impetus to continue with the restoration process North of the lake too.

In 2006, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, with more than 40 partners, launched a major initiative to restore a self sustaining Atlantic salmon population to lake Ontario. This initiative called as the Lake Ontario Atlantic Salmon Restoration programme has four components: fish production and stocking; water quality and habitat enhancement; outreach and education; and research and monitoring. This is popularly called as the "Bring Back the Salmon" (BBTS) programme.


Salmon Restoration Highlights

The Salmon Restoration Program Highlights
The Salmon Restoration Program Highlights | Source

Atlantic Salmon Restoration Programme in Duffins Creek, Ontario

The BBTS programme is structured in phases. Phase I commenced in 2006 and was completed in 2010. In this phase, more than 2.5 million fish were stocked in three selected tributaries, viz. the Credit river, Cobourg brook and Duffins creek. These tributaries were selected for restoration because of their "high-quality spawning and nursery habitat, as well as strong community support", wherein thousands of students and volunteers joined the process to bring back the salmons. During this period, nearly 100 habitat projects were completed. The habitat projects included "stream-side plantings, stream bank stabilization, spawning habitat creation, and the construction of cattle crossings and by-pass channels. Over 23,000 trees and shrubs were planted, and 13,229 meters of stream bank enhanced". Future large habitat projects include the construction of fish-ways around dams to facilitate the fish to proceed upstream to their spawning areas.


Salmon Run

A Salmon on its way to its spawning site in the Duffins creek
A Salmon on its way to its spawning site in the Duffins creek | Source

The Positive Signs of the Restoration Program

Stocking and the restoration of tributary habitats started to show signs of success in 2008 and 2009 when maturing salmons started returning to the tributaries. The success of the program can be gauged from the photographs and video that I have taken on September 30, 2013. These have been uploaded to this hub. These show healthy and wild adult salmons returning to the Duffins creek for spawning. Their presence is proof that the improvements in the ecosystem and the stocking efforts have brought about the desired results of trying to restore the natural and cultural heritage of lake Ontario. The Atlantic salmon are being seen in the lake and its selected tributaries after over 110 years of absence; since 1896 when they were officially declared extirpated.


Atlantic Salmons swimming upstream to Spawning Sites in Duffins Creek, Ontario

Phase II of the BBTS and Beyond

A good beginning had been made in phase I of the BBTS. Phase II of the BBTS programme was launched in 2011 with the Ontario Power Generation as the new major sponsor, which has pledged a sum of $1.25 million over the 5 year period ( 2011 - 2015). The other sponsors that are contributing money to phase II of the program include the LCBO through their natural heritage fund ($50,000 annually) and other sponsors like Banrock Station wines, TD Friends of the Environment and City of Mississauga. Fleming College is helping by raising Atlantic Salmon at its Frost campus in Lindsay.

The phase I of the restoration program focused on three tributaries, viz. the Credit river, the Duffins creek and the Cobourg creek. In phase II, Bronte creek and the Humber river have been selected for the restoration program. Like phase I, these two have chosen for the high quality of the nursery and spawning habitat and strong community support. The third tributary is yet to be identified for phase II.

The presence of the fish in the Duffins creek is proof that the restoration program is working as desired. However, it will take another 10 - 15 years of concerted efforts to achieve the goal of a self-sustaining Atlantic Salmon population in lake Ontario. The strong community support and sponsoring support witnessed in phase I needs to be replicated in the following phases too if the project of self-sustaining population has to be successfully concluded.

Only time will tell if we humans are up to it, for a sustained period of time that it would take to achieve this goal. I am hopeful. Are you? Is the project worth the effort?

Field and Stream Magazine

An Amazing Fact about Atlantic Salmons

A mature female salmon carries about 22% of its body weight as eggs. Understandably so, because a female salmon can lay about 1500 - 1600 eggs/ kilogram of body weight. These eggs are laid in 'redds' (nests) that the female creates by excavating the gravel under the water by splashing its caudal fin (tail). Out of about 7500 eggs laid, only 1.1 mature Atlantic salmon will return to spawn; a very poor record.

This is probably the reason for such a large number of eggs laid, and more importantly, also the reason for 'why' and 'how' we humans need to help them to reach a self sustaining population.

  • I visited the Duffins creek on 04 October 2013 and have seen females losing their scales on the tail after doing this; the tail or caudal fin goes silvery. I was witness to a number of couples in the process of laying the eggs and sperm and have taken a video, which I shall put up shortly, in case it is of good quality.

An relevant and interesting excerpt from the Food and Drug Administration website http://www.fda.gov/AdvisoryCommittees/CommitteesMeetingMaterials/VeterinaryMedicineAdvisoryCommittee/ucm222635.htm

"In general, salmon eggs (roe) are laid by mature female fish (sometimes referred to as “hens”) after they have selected a quiet gravelly spot in a stream or pond in late fall (October or November). If the female accepts the courtship of a mature male, she begins a vigorous “dance” in which she uses her caudal fin (tail), swishing it back and forth vigorously to get the water to move the gravel at the stream bed to make a hollow (often referred to as a redd). She then proceeds to lay her orange-red roe (eggs) in the redd; the male aligns himself next to her and releases his milt (sperm) next to the newly released eggs. Fertilization occurs as the eggs and milt intermingle. The female then buries the eggs in the gravel, and rests. The male continues to guard the female, and to drive away competitors aggressively until she has completed making redds and depositing her eggs. This may take as long as a week, and require the building of up to seven redds to deposit her nearly 7,500 eggs. At the end of this time, both male and female are exhausted; they generally swim back downstream to a pool where they rest and recover before beginning a new migration to the ocean a few weeks later. These post-spawn salmon are sometimes referred to as “kelts.” Many do not survive the first mating; some survive to mate twice, but very few mature males or females salmon survive to spawn three or more times".


My Video of the Mating Dance

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      Daren 3 years ago

      those are pacific salmon you have pictures of. to be exact they are adult king salmon, an introduced species that actually poses an obstacle to restoring atlantic salmon to lake ontario

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      Gord 3 years ago

      Those pictures and video are of Chinook Salmon (Pacific Salmon). Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program is failing miserably (if you ask me). Millions stocked and a grand total of 9 adults recaptured in the Credit River last year. This project is too big for the under staffed and under funded MNR.

    • Jatinder Joshi profile image
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      Jatinder Joshi 4 years ago from Whitby, Ontario, Canada

      Thank you for your comment, aviannovice.

      I agree with you about people. Most of the time people are not aware of the disastrous effects of their actions performed with very short term aims, like food or commercial gains or recreation. This awareness has to be brought about through targeted advertisements and government policies/ programs in the surrounding communities and schools. The Govt of Ontario did this right in phase I. However, it now has to be highlighted that the Phase I was a success BUT it will take another about 10 - 15 years of concerted effort to make the project self sustaining. I haven't seen much of this, except some newsletters.

      Humans have very short memories, and go back to the old ways pretty quickly too.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I commend you on this piece. The mating dance is both rare, and wonderful footage. The project is wonderful, and will likely only continue to survive if people are kept out of the area. The average citizen will throw their trash in the water, fish, and leave dead remains in the water. If you can control the flow of people in there, and education efforts are rallied, then perhaps there is a slim chance that this will become a reality.

    • Jatinder Joshi profile image
      Author

      Jatinder Joshi 4 years ago from Whitby, Ontario, Canada

      Thank you FlourishAnyway for your comment. Agree with you that we humans consciously or unconsciously do things that make us 'overtake' from this world.

      Thus I found this a refreshing change, wherein we are trying to restore and thus this is a story of hope - hoping to encourage other stories of a similar kind too.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      I enjoyed this hub not only for the information that you conveyed but also for the beautiful images. Too often we overhung, overfish, overtake from this world, and I am glad are making efforts here to restore part of it. Nice hub. Voted up and more.

    • Jatinder Joshi profile image
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      Jatinder Joshi 4 years ago from Whitby, Ontario, Canada

      So true, grandmapearl. I agree with what you say. We humans tend to do things that do a lot of damage to the environment and to the other plant and animal species, but then sometimes we even amaze ourselves by undertaking projects that can reverse the trend. This is one of those kinds of project.

      I had visited this creek last year for the first time and seen some fish swimming upstream and also seen the 'Salmon Restoration' signboards but it did not register as to what was the enormity of the problem and the task being undertaken.

      It is only this year when I tried to do some research that I found out about what was being attempted. It made me happy and hopeful. Community involvement is important for any such project to be successful and the first requirement for this to happen is wider dissemination of information about the why, what, how, where, when, etc.

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      It never ceases to amaze me that humans can do so much damage to the environment without even a blink of the eye. But then they can also make concerted efforts to reverse that damage.

      In this case, the salmon were restored. Unfortunately, in a lot of other cases, the species has been totally exterminated from the Earth never to appear again. Such is the case with a lot of bird species.

      Hopefully this article will help people to realize that for a lot of animals it is not too late to reverse the damage humans have inflicted upon them.

      Voted Up+++