Will monitor escapees in Little River
The Miawpukek First Nation Band in Conne River was one of seven Newfoundland groups that received funding recently aimed at protecting wild salmon stocks in the province.
The grant of $45,691 was from the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation and is aimed at conserving rivers and strengthening wild Atlantic salmon in the province.
Ross Hinks is an official with the Miawpukek Band.
Hinks said that "Miawpukek Aquaculture Escapee Monitoring" program has two main aims.
One of these aims is to determine the numbers of escaped farmed salmon that may be entering the river.
According to Hinks, the Band knows that escaped salmon have been in the river in the past.
"We have been enhancing Little River for about 20 years, and people have been telling us for years that escaped salmon were in the river. However, it wasn't until one of our own officers actually caught an escaped salmon in the river in late fall that we knew for certain that escaped salmon were actually there.
So, in this project we'll be trying to determine the number of escaped fish actually entering the river. We will be placing a counting fence on the river early this year. We will take scale samples from all salmon going through to determine if they are wild salmon or not. Any salmon determined to be escaped fish will be removed.
"If we can't determine a fish is wild or farmed from a scale sample we will take biological samples to make a determination."
Hinks said that it's important to know the numbers of escaped salmon, if any, are entering the river today.
"This issue is a serious concern to us," Hinks said. "In other parts of the world wild salmon have interbred with farmed salmon which has led to the destruction of some rivers in terms of salmon runs."
Hinks said that the belief that farmed salmon cannot interbreed with wild salmon is false.
"We did an experiment in Conne River with Department of Fisheries and Oceans officials which determined that sperm from farmed salmon is viable for interbreeding with wild stocks.
"This hasn't been proven in Newfoundland but it has been proven to have happened in other districts around the world."
"Our second goal in this project is to check out possible interbreeding in Little River by sending off biological samples to determine if this has happened or not. This is possible in farmed salmon who escaped in an early age and entered rivers with wild fish."
Hinks said that the Miawpukek Band hopes that Little River will become a 'designated river' for the province. He said that many areas have these designated rivers which are monitored to determine if escaped salmon have entered the river and if they may be interbreeding.
Little River had seen returns of up to 800 salmon years ago, but the numbers have dropped drastically in recent years. Apparently, only 200 salmon returned to the river in 2013.