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Revitalizing Gold River's salmon population

High acid content may have played a role
by Adam Jacobs

 GOLD RIVER - Early results of a study to revitalize the Gold River salmon population have revealed what many feared - high acid levels.

 An effort was launched last fall to determine why the population of the once thriving salmon river has dwindled over the years. But those behind the study aren't panicking yet because the information is still being scrutinized.

 "I don't think we're far enough along in the project to raise any alarms," said Lewis Hinks of the Atlantic Salmon Federation. Preliminary tests show a pH level anywhere from 4.2 to 5.0. A pH of seven is optimum for salmon. High acid counts are lethal to salmon smolts.

 "A pH of five isn't great but we can live with it," Mr. Hinks said.

 That said, there is no hard evidence linking the acidity to the decline in salmon population.

 "We're not sure what this means yet," Mr. Hinks said. "This river has never had a liming project before."

 Lime, a natural base, helps neutralize the effects of acid.

 No decision has been made on whether a liming project is needed.

 The Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation (BCAF), in co-operation with the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), is working on the revitalization project.

 The project is being funded through the Donner Foundation.

 The population has drastically declined since 1990. During the 1950s, the Gold harbour was a thriving commercial fishery.

 Andrew Breen of the BCAF said at the best of times salmon smolts have a hard time surviving. In fact, only about 30 per cent of smolts survive to migrate into the ocean.

 "We don't really know what the adult escapement numbers are," Mr. Breen said. "And some believe the salmon smolt on the Gold tend to be a little smaller for whatever reason."

 Methods to track the salmon smolt, or maybe even salmon par, are being considered and could be invaluable.

 The next step, however, is to form a steering committee to help guide the future work of the research team.

 Although there are a lot of unanswered questions to date, Mr. Hinks said he's pretty certain of one thing.

 "We believe it to be a marine reason," he said, meaning something in the environment has caused the change, as opposed to overfishing, for example.

 There is a secondary purpose to the project as well.

 Mr. Breen said the goal is to encourage the formation of a proactive community group to look out for the river. The group would be successor to the now defunct Gold River Salmon Association.

 He said the group will hopefully be represented by all demographics of river enthusiasts and not just fishers.

 "We don't want to exclude any just because they're not fishing," he said. "Maybe something like the Gold River Watershed Association."

 Gold River's headwaters are set in the Annapolis Valley somewhere between Windsor and Kentville. Two miles west of Chester Basin, it empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

 The river is currently home to smallmouth bass, trout, gaspereau, eel and some salmon, among other species.

 The majority of the species are anadromous meaning they spawn in fresh water and live most of their lives in salt water.

posted on 06/24/08
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