St. Andrews.... Atlantic salmon researchers and conservationists recently released 332 ready-to-spawn salmon into West River, at undisclosed locations near Sheet Harbour, just in time for spawning season. This was one in many steps of a long-term program undertaken by the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF), and the Nova Scotia Salmon Association (NSSA), and other partners to restore wild Atlantic salmon to the river after their numbers were decimated by the effects of acid rain.

In 2005, ASF, NSSA and other partners installed Canada's first lime doser, on the West River at Sheet Harbour to help mitigate against the damage caused to the river and its fish populations by acid rain. This Norwegian-built doser automatically distributes lime to neutralize the acid in the water. Since the doser's introduction four years ago, the water has gradually improved and has now reached a pH balance that can support salmon again. There are even reports of juvenile salmon having been seen in the limed parts of the river that have not seen fish for decades because of the river's high acidity levels.

In addition to the ready-to-spawn salmon, for the first time since the acid mitigation program began, researchers stocked the river with 35,000 unfed salmon fry, the progeny of wild 2007 smolts, reared to maturity at the Fisheries and Oceans Coldbrook Biodiversity Facility. They were released in areas where no salmon have been found due to low pH. The spawners were also raised at the biodiversity facility from salmon caught two years ago as part of the facility's gene banking program.

For a second consecutive year, researchers also implanted some West River smolts with acoustic tags to follow their migration movements from the river to the ocean as part of ASF's ocean tracking program to determine why so many salmon are failing to return to their birth rivers. Researchers estimate that 2,500 smolts migrated from the West River this year.

Lewis Hinks, ASF's NS Regional Director, says, "We are excited that after many years of planning, raising money, and working to restore West River - Sheet Harbour, that we have reached these milestones. We still have a lot of work ahead, but hopefully, next year, we will find thousands of salmon fry in the river. That will make it all worthwhile."

George Ferguson, VP, NSSA, and West River Program Manager, agrees and adds, "We are gradually returning this river to a healthy state; that bodes well for Nova Scotia's 53 other acid-impacted rivers. We many have to restore them one at a time, but at least, we know that with hard work and diligence they can be restored."

The Atlantic Salmon Federation is an international, non-profit organization that promotes the conservation and wise management of wild Atlantic salmon and their environment. ASF has a network of seven regional councils (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Maine and Western New England). The regional councils cover the freshwater range of the Atlantic salmon in Canada and the United States.