Born to Spawn!
Aug 13, 2008
|Return of the Atlantic Salmon - Wednesday, August 13
Today's drive started in Cow Head and took us on a 236 mile trip to Quirpon, a small town at the very end of the Northern Peninsula. Here you are as far north as it is possible to get in Newfoundland, and in fact we are north of the ferry terminal where we will land in Labrador on Saturday.
For the first two hours we drove along the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. By late morning we reached Hawkes Bay, where we stopped to see the Torrent River salmon enhancement project. We spent an inspiring hour and a half at their Visitor Center and it was certainly the highlight of our day.
The Torrent River flows into Ingornachoix Bay at the town of Hawkes Bay. At one time it was a major spawning river for the Atlantic salmon, but like much of the salmon's traditional habitat it was ruined by economic development. Lumbering came to the region in 1933 and for the next 25 years the activities of the lumber industry degraded and nearly destroyed the salmon grounds.
The lumber yards closed in 1958 and by 1965 only a very small salmon population lived in the Torrent River, and they were confined to the lower section. A 10 meter high falls two kilometers from the mouth of the river prevented fish from being able to migrate farther upstream to the prime spawning grounds.
Initial efforts to save the salmon concentrated on helping them get past this falls, and a state of the art fish ladder was built, but early results were disappointing. Few fish were using the ladder and the project did not look promising.
Research showed that the salmon will only spawn if they can return to the place where they were born. They weren't using the fish ladder to go farther upstream because none of the surviving fish had been born there. The answer was to transplant adult fish to the ponds and spawning areas upstream from the falls. When these fish spawned, their offspring would someday want to return to their birthplace, and would then use the fish ladder to get upstream and spawn themselves.
In 1972 a project was launched to bring healthy salmon from Western Arm Brook to the Torrent River. In the next four years 50 to 300 fish were transplanted each year. The river was closed to fishing, and everyone held their breath and waited. The project turned out to be a huge success, as fish born above the falls began returning to the river and using the fish ladder to get upriver and spawn.
Salmon count at the fishway increased from 58 fish in 1971 to a high of 7,000 in 1996, and has remained at 4,000 a year ever since. At the Visitor Center we watched a good video and toured the excellent exhibits on display, then a young docent took us downstairs to see the fish ladder. They have built it with windows so you can watch the wild salmon using it, and it is a real thrill to see them.
Outside we walked down to see the falls and the entrance to the fish ladder. While we were there I saw one large fish leap out of the water to a height of about 5 feet. It was too quick to get a picture, and while we stayed another quarter of an hour we saw no more fish jump. We thanked them and filled out a questionnaire, and got back on the road.
Our next stops were in Port au Choix where we had a good cod lunch, at their historic site where we saw and read a little about the limestone barrens, and finally at Port Saunders where we gassed up. It was an old style Esso station with a pump first and pay later inside system. When I walked in to pay the guy working there gave me a big grin and said, "Hi Santa Claus!" It cracked me up and despite the $171.00 bill I had to laugh too.
From there the road soon turned inland, and for the next few hours we drove across the peninsula to the Atlantic side on the end. This is very lonely country and it rained all the way. There was one time where at 55 mph we did not meet another car for 22 minutes. Highway 50 and the Extraterrestrial Highway in Nevada are nothing compared to this place.
We finally arrived at the end of the peninsula just before dark and lucked out and found a place with WiFi. No TV reception and no cell signal - but good WiFi so here it is - our latest adventure in Newfoundland! We now have two days to see things here, and then Saturday we will take the ferry to Labrador. And that will surely be an adventure for us! So stay tuned and thanks for hanging with us. :-)