Using the Model Forest approach to restore a rare Atlantic salmon population in Canada

Fundy Model Forest, Canada

The Challenge 
The Inner Bay of Fundy (iBoF), located between the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in eastern Canada, has a very unique population of Atlantic salmon. The area encompasses a large landscape with 32 rivers known to have had iBoF salmon spawning grounds. In New Brunswick, there are 11 such rivers, with the best known being the Upper Salmon, Big Salmon, Point Wolfe and Petitcodiac Rivers.
 
The iBoF salmon look similar to other Atlantic salmon; however they possess distinct genetic traits and unique life history characteristics.  iBoF salmon begin their lives in freshwater rivers before migrating to rich feeding grounds in the ocean. Unlike other populations of Atlantic salmon, they do not migrate the long distances to the waters around Greenland. Instead, they spend a year or more feeding within the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of Maine before returning to their home rivers to spawn.
 
For many years, iBoF salmon have struggled to survive challenges largely attributed to increasing human activity around the Bay of Fundy, such as:

  • the loss of important habitat,
  • blocked access to home rivers including by tidal barriers placed at the mouth of several rivers and streams,
  • damage to spawning grounds and riverbanks,
  • commercial salmon farms that may attract predators, alter habitat, obstruct migration or harbor disease, and major changes to marine ecosystems where salmon spend a critical period of their lives.

Over the past four decades, the iBoF salmon populations have declined significantly: from  40,000 adults in the 1970s   to 250 individuals in 1999.  Today, scientists estimate that the iBoF salmon population oscillates yearly between 50-150 individuals. IBoF salmon were assessed as “endangered” in 2001 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and have been listed and protected as “endangered” under the federal Species at Risk Act since 2003. The endangered status coupled with efforts in rearing and releasing wild iBoF salmon in appropriate river habitat have helped to stabilize the population. Scientists noted that marine survival appears to be the limiting factor to population growth and recovery. However, restoring river habitat is also key to their recovery.

Restoring the iBoF salmon habitat
Designing and implementing restoration activities for iBoF salmon habitat was seen as a challenge because of the complexity of land ownership (private, industrial, federal, provincial, municipal), varied use of the landscape, and numerous regulations.
 
The Fundy Model Forest located in the province of New Brunswick, Canada, became a key player in the process of finding lasting solutions to save the iBoF salmon. To begin with, the Fundy Model Forest already included a partnership of organizations and stakeholders with an interest in the iBoF salmon. To address the broad interests of the stakeholders and those of the salmon, the Fundy MF as a convenor, provided an open and transparent decision making process that helped to organize stakeholders. This resulted in developing a common approach and vision through the formation of an “Inner Bay of Fundy Forum”. The iBoF Forum’s initial members were landowners, First Nations, regulatory agencies and organizations with an interest in the Upper Salmon, Big Salmon and Point Wolfe watersheds.
 
As the secretariat to the iBoF Forum, the Fundy MF facilitated several meetings where Forum members achieved consensus and established an implementation plan which included:
1) Building the capacity of individuals and organizations in restoring marine and freshwater aquatic habitat
2) Linking individuals and organizations interested in restoring salmon habitat and encourage them to collaborate
3) Communicating with the general public the importance of recovering iBoF salmon populations and associated restoration activities
4) Developing and delivering tools for data collection and analysis for planning and restoring salmon bearing rivers.
 
One of the most pressing issues was to identify man-made physical barriers that hindered the access of the Inner Bay of Fundy salmon populations to critical upper river habitat for spawning. Members of the Forum spent the three first years collecting data in the Big Salmon, Upper Salmon and Point Wolfe river watersheds. They shared their data with landowners so that restoration projects could be planned.
 
Over the past decade the iBoF Forum also provided information to the public about the current science around iBoF salmon and Atlantic salmon in general. Through its broad and diverse stakeholders, the Fundy MF assisted in sharing protocols and experiences in habitat restoration strategies and monitoring techniques. Through the Fundy Model Forests commitment to knowledge sharing, other organizations have been able to build upon the lessons learned by the iBoF to accelerate salmon habitat restoration in the Petitcodiac and Saint John watersheds.  In addition the iBoF Forum, through the Fundy Model Forest, has facilitated collaboration on additional scientific work in streams and rivers in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
 
The iBoF Forum has expanded beyond New Brunswick and now collaborates with organizations from all other Atlantic Canadian provinces (Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island).
 
As a convenor and facilitator of stakeholders that make up the iBoF Forum, and through knowledge exchange, the Fundy Model Forest has helped to play a key role in the advancing participatory landscape management and restoration efforts of the rare Inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic salmon population in Canada. 
 
For more information:
 
iBoF Salmon Recovery Strategy Webpage:
iBoF Salmon Species profile Webpage on SARA’s Public registry
Parks Canada iBoF Salmon Webpage