SALMON OF THE ST LAWRENCE
The last few weeks have been all about the Chinook Salmon. Last year I missed the spawn, so this year I prepared early and followed the complete spawn.
The human made creek at the Rotary Eco Garden for Conservation and Recreation in Cornwall was completed in 1997. The creek runs off of the old Cornwall canal and into the St Lawrence River. Dr. Brian Hickey a research scientist with the St. Lawrence River Institute was one of the main contributors to the building and design of the Rotary Eco Garden.
Dr. Hickey’s goal was habitat creation in an urban setting, an area that people and their children could go to and learn about the great out doors with out leaving the city.
Dr. Hickey and Myself.
Dr Hickey discovered the Chinook Salmon spawn in the Fall of 2000, The following year Dr. Hickey captured young-of-the-year Chinook Salmon on four separate occasions. Thus creating the first successful man made Chinook spawn on the St. Lawrence River. At no time was the creek ever stocked, the Salmon showed up and spawned on their own. It’s believed the Chinook come from the Great Lakes. The Chinook are able to come through the dams but have a very slim chance of getting back up to the Great Lakes.
The video below shows what I thought was a dead Chinook. I went in the water to retrieve it and turns out it wasn’t dead. This fish was at the mouth of the creek. The water at this time of year is painfully cold. I was in the water in jeans and shoes so I didn’t have a lot of time to stay in the water.
That Salmon really caught me off guard, that fish was probably 20-25 lbs. The eyes were pretty much rotted right out, yet it still had enough left to swim away.
Below is a Chinook making it’s way up the creek.
The Salmon spook very easily, I found one that wasn’t camera shy and I was able to get close to shoot some underwater video.
What an amazing species of fish.
Below a small Salmon meets up with a very large one.
Bass and Perch have also made their way into the stream.
A small Perch I caught with my hand. The Cutlip Minnow also lives in the stream. Currently the Cutlip Minnow is a species at risk. The River Institute monitors this species and it is slowly making a come back thanks to the stream and the River Institute.
I pulled a nice Salmon out of the water, it was already dead, hopefully spawned out.
A few other spawned out Salmon.
The spawn usually involved 8-10 Salmon, this year was at least double of that. It’s believed that the Salmon have adapted and sustained a population in the St Lawrence River. Instead of going to salt water the Salmon are staying put. The main reason is all the dams the fish would have to travel up to get from the freshwater to salt water.
Thousands of school children now visit this area yearly. The River Institute educates children all about fish and their ecosystems. There are many species of birds that call this area home as well.
That Blue Heron was huge, I was battling this big fella to get position on the shoreline.
The upper pond with condos in the back round. It’s a real privilege to have this nestled in a city.
With the word getting out on the Salmon spawn, of course people want to ruin it. People have been fishing there and using other methods to catch the fish. It’s taken 11 years to get to roughly 20 Salmon to spawn and it could only take a matter of seconds to destroy it. The River Institute is currently working with the City of Cornwall to get By Laws in place to help protect the spawn. The Salmon population is to fragile to have people removing the fish.
Somebody left the above Salmon on the dock near the spawn location. This was about 1 month before the spawn. The Salmon will hang out at the mouth until the water temperature is cold enough to spawn. That fish didn’t get to spawn. I am not sure why someone would just leave it there, What a waste!
Another issue is people are damming up the stream.
The dams add extra stress to the Salmon trying to spawn.
That dead Salmon shows a lot of signs of wear and tear from climbing over dams to get up stream. Other Salmon that were inspected show similar markings or scratches.
Shoreline erosion was another issue with the dams.
With the permission from River Institute Staff I removed some of the dams.
With the cold water I couldn’t get all the dams out, but I was able to get the water flowing evenly.
It doesn’t take long to lose feeling in your feet and hands in the cold water. I am hoping that the Salmon will be able to run up the stream a little easier. At one point I was removing a dam and a River Institute employee was beside me when a Salmon swims by and rests against my leg for a few seconds. That was pretty awesome. This was the first Salmon spawn I’ve seen in real life so I was in aww most of the time.
What a great few weeks I had following these amazing fish. The power and determination of the Salmon to spawn to keep the species thriving is nothing short of marvelous.
A huge thank you to the St Lawrence River Institute and their staff for making the St Lawrence River and the Great Lakes a healthier fishery.
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