The Inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic Salmon (IboF) is a critically endangered species. Its decline has resulted from the loss and degradation of crucial habitat both freshwater and marine. In addition, for reasons that are still unknown, very few salmon are returning from the sea to spawn in their home rivers in the inner Bay of Fundy. Parks Canada and its partners are trying to solve this mystery.

What is the Inner Bay of Fundy Salmon?

Inner Bay of Fundy Salmon
Mature adult with acoustic tag.

Atlantic Salmon relocates their native rivers by “scent”. As they leave the river as smolt, the chemical and olfactory signature of the river will be imprinted in their memory. As they retrace their steps back home, they follow this familiar scent!

Inner Bay of Fundy (iBoF) Salmon are genetically distinct from other Atlantic Salmon of the world.

All Atlantic Salmon spend their first years in rivers where they rely mostly on aquatic insects and small fish for food. Fast flowing water and deep pools of Fundy National Park of Canada’s rivers require them to be well adapted to find shelter.

By June of the salmon’s second or third year, they move from river to ocean. Atlantic Salmon from North America and Europe migrate within the Northern Atlantic Ocean for one to two years before returning to their native rivers to spawn. If the fish are strong and healthy, they may survive to spawn a second or third time in the future.

New information has shed light on the patterns of the iBoF Salmon. Previous beliefs included a limited ocean migration within the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine. Recent studies may indicate that some iBoF fish leave these areas to move further out into the Atlantic Ocean. A larger proportion of the population matures after one year at sea than other Atlantic Salmon populations. Also, iBoF Salmon population relied heavily on repeat spawners to keep the population number stable.

Where are Inner Bay of Fundy Salmon found?

Mature adult salmon with acoustic tag.
The acoustic tags are attached to the fish on either side of the dorsal fin.

The iBoF Atlantic Salmon are found in the eastern half of the Bay of Fundy. Out of the 32 main rivers flowing into this part of the Bay, two salmon rivers are partially contained within Fundy National Park’s boundaries – the Upper Salmon River and the Point Wolfe River. All 32 rivers face the same ecological challenges as they flow through towns, clear cuts, tree farms and farmland.

At the age of 2 or 3, the fish leave their native rivers to move into the Bay of Fundy/Gulf of Maine system and some may move into the Atlantic Ocean. Their ocean migrations are not fully understood.

What is the status of the Inner Bay of Fundy Salmon?

The numbers of fish in the wild are falling dangerously low. The decline in the iBoF Salmon population prompted COSEWIC to designate these fish as endangered in May 2001.

IBoF Salmon populations have declined from an estimated historical high of 40,000 to just 200 returning adults in 2003.

Fundy National Park monitors the adult runs in the fall and the smolt counts in the spring. This helps us project future population trends. Some numbers speak for themselves.

Why is the Inner Bay of Fundy Salmon in danger?

Inner Bay of Fundy salmon with an acoustic tag being held by a researcher.
Inner Bay of Fundy salmon with an acoustic tag being held by a researcher.

Salmon population declines linked to human activity began as early as 200 years ago. Overfishing and loss of river habitat from forestry practices were the most common causes. Commercial fishing in the Bay of Fundy ended in 1984. Forestry practices are regulated to ensure they don’t impact on fish habitat. Several dams have been removed and/or fish ladders have been added. So why have the populations not recovered?

We now need to focus our attention to the other major habitat of the Atlantic Salmon… the ocean. As this population continues to spiral down the extinction vortex, questions are being asked with the most important one being… what is happening in our ocean?

The decline of fish populations around the world should be seen as an indication of ocean health. Overfishing is causing ecosystem level shifts that may no longer favour species like salmon. Will Atlantic Salmon suffer a worse fate than the Northern Atlantic Cod populations?

Why protect the Inner Bay of Fundy Salmon?

There are several reasons to protect the iBoF Atlantic Salmon, like:

  • Atlantic Salmon possess all the required information to survive in their native rivers. Although it is possible to introduce a new salmon to the same river system, it does not have the adaptations, instinct and knowledge as the others who have survived here for 10,000 years. All salmon are not evolved as equals.
  • The Inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic salmon contribute to the genetic biodiversity of Atlantic salmon as a distinct population with adaptations and habitat requirements specific to the Bay of Fundy.
  • By protecting the Atlantic salmon through habitat stewardship, we are also contributing to healthier habitats for others species including other species of the area.

Healthy salmon populations are an indication of the health of both our rivers and our oceans.

What is Parks Canada doing to save the Inner Bay of Fundy Salmon?

Fundy National Park has monitored salmon populations within the park for over 25 years. Adults are counted in the fall as they return to spawn. Smolt are counted in the Spring as they leave for the Bay. Parr are counted in the summer by electrofishing. The habitats are studied to better understand their ability to meet the fish’s needs. Other areas are restored in order to provide healthier environments for the fish return. But Fundy National Park cannot save the iBoF Salmon alone!

Parks Canada is a member of the National iBoF Salmon Recovery program with various partners: the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Canadian Rivers Institute, and the Fort Folly First Nation. Together, we are trying to understand what is contributing to the salmon’s demise and what needs to be done to save them.

Solving the problems at sea

The recovery program includes researching problems iBoF Salmon are facing in the ocean. Scientists from both Parks Canada and the partnering groups are tracking the movements of the smolts and adults using various tracking devises carried within the rivers and ocean. With these methods, we hope to better understand movement patterns of the iBoF Salmon to locate problem areas.

Protecting the remaining iBoF Salmon

Capture of young salmon
Capture of young salmon.

Another element of the Recovery program concentrates on protecting the genetic identity/information of iBoF Salmon from disappearing. With the help of our team partners, Fundy National Park is raising its native iBoF salmon at the Mactaquac Biodiversity Facility. Genetic fingerprinting will determine salmon families (who is related to who?), identify the carriers of foreign (aquaculture) genes, and influence the spawning and releasing strategies.

How can I help?

IBoF Salmon with acoustic tags.  The red tag on the bottom fish identifies its parental lineage.
IBoF Salmon with acoustic tags.

Looking to the future

Parks Canada, within the National Recovery Team, is committed to help save the inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic Salmon. Population recovery strategies are flexible in order to adapt to new information required through ongoing research and its member’s determination to make a difference is strong.

However, society also needs to understand its role in protecting species at risk. Here are examples of what you can do to support wild salmon populations with:

Knowledge by:

  • Learning more about environmental stresses and survival challenges.
  • Understanding the impacts of these stresses.
  • Building awareness of environmental regulations. Towns, provinces and the country have habitat regulations, which have been established to protect sensitive areas and species at risk from pollution, development, and resource exploitation.

Action by:

  • Joining stewardship programs and environmental groups. They will help you understand what is happening locally as well as gaining a better understanding of the environment.
  • Participating in restoration projects.
  • Being a better environmental citizen by making decisions that benefit Atlantic salmon.

Every one of us has a role to play in changing the way we treat our oceans and our world.