ALMA (GNB) – Hundreds of wild Atlantic salmon were released into the rivers of Fundy National Park today, the result of a conservation partnership among the three levels of government, the aquaculture industry, First Nations and the scientific community.

“It is rewarding to see more than 500 adult salmon being returned to our rivers,” said Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries Minister Rick Doucet, who joined representatives of Parks Canada, the Village of Alma, Cooke Aquaculture, the Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers’ Association, the University of New Brunswick and Fort Folly First Nation for the release. “This is good news for the wild salmon population, the environment and the economy.”

The salmon were reared at the world’s first wild salmon aquaculture conservation site near Grand Manan. The site, designated by the provincial department, allows smolts to be held until maturity, ensuring that only salmon ready to spawn are returned to rivers.

Atlantic salmon once thrived in the inner Bay of Fundy, but the numbers dwindled from 40,000 half a century ago to fewer than 250 by the year 2000. They are now listed as endangered and protected under the Species at Risk Act.

“Over the years, there have been a number of rehabilitation, enhancement and recovery programs,” said Doucet. “Those programs prevented the species from going extinct, but didn’t really result in salmon returning from the marine environment to spawn in rivers. This partnership shows real promise to help the population recover.”

At the designated conservation site, wild smolts from Fundy National Park rivers and the Petitcodiac River are raised in custom-designed aquaculture net pens, then released back into their home rivers prior to spawning season. This enables scientists to evaluate whether rearing wild smolts to maturity in marine pens will improve their fitness and survival rate in the wild, compared to traditional stocking methods. Results from a three-year pilot project suggest fish with less exposure to captivity before the smolt stage have better surviving offspring and overall fitness in the wild.

New Brunswick is recognized internationally as a salmon fishing destination, with the recreational fishery spurring GDP value of $39.8 million annually and $54.7 million in total spending. Recreational salmon angling on the Miramichi River alone contributes $16 million to the GDP and creates 637 full-time equivalent jobs.