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Sunday, September 2, 2007

Torrent River Salmon Project - Newfoundland

Torrent River is located at Hawk's Bay, Ingornachoix Bay on Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula. It is the site of one of the region's most successful salmon enhancement projects in the province.

A challenge went out to increase the number of salmon in the island's tributaries. Since salmon return to the river of their birth, the answer to the challenge was to stock the upper tributaries of the Torrent River. After extensive evaluation, the Adult Salmon-Stocking Program saw to use the Western Arm Brook, a healthy salmon river 80 km north of the Torrent River, as the donor stream for the salmon.

From 1972-1976, The Department of Fisheries and Oceans annually transferred 50 to 300 adult salmon by helicopter from the Western Arm Brook into a good spawning habitat upstream from the fishway. As well, the recreational salmon fishery was closed on the Torrent River from 1976 to 977, and then again in 1980 and 1984.

The Adult Salmon-Stocking Program was a success. Salmon born above the falls in Torrent River returned to the upper reaches of the river to spawn and a healthy, viable salmon population was created. The salmon count at the fishway increased from 58 fish in 1971 to a high of 7,000 in 1996 and has remained at approximately 4,000 salmon in the years since.

The Atlantic Salmon Life Cycle

Most adult Atlantic salmon in Newfoundland and Labrador return to their birth river and spawn for the first time after one year at sea. These are called 'grilse'. Most 'large salmon' in Newfoundland and Labrador are repeat spawning 'grilse'.

Atlantic salmon spawn in shallow gravel-bottomed fresh-water streams during the fall. The female first makes a nest using her tail to force water to displace the gravel. The female deposits her eggs as the male fertilizes them. The female covers the fertilized eggs with gravel, forming a mound known as a 'redd'. Over the winter months the eggs slowly development, hatching in the spring. Once the yolk sac is depleted, young salmon emerge from the gravel and begin to feed.

After 3-4 years in the river, the young salmon, now called 'smolt', move downstream to the salt water.

It is important to continue to protect and conserve the habitat of Atlantic salmon and other fish species found within Torrent River. The Fisheries Act prohibits the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat without authorization from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The Habitat Management Division of Fisheries and Oceans Canada has developed a series of fact sheets describing habitat protection measures and procedures to follow when proposing developments in or near streams such as Torrent River and its many tributaries, for Newfoundland and Labrador. By following these guidelines, developers and the public can help ensure the continued protection of fish habitat.


Before 1965 only a small population of Atlantic salmon lived in the Torrent river and was confined to the lower section. A 10 meterr high waterfall, located about 2 kilometers from the mouth of the river, prevented salmon migration in to the much larger spawning and rearing areas upstream.

Research indicated that giving salmon access above the falls would boost the population and improve the recreational fishery on the river. In 1965, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) developed an enhancement program which included the design and construction of a fishway past the falls. Resembling a series of stairs, the fishway enabled the adult salmon to swim up and over the falls through a series of 34 gradually elevated pools.

At first, most salmon did not use the fishway. Creating a new enlarged viable spawning stock with so fews salmon straying to the fishway did not seem promising. Fisheries and Oceans realized it would take five-year cycles, or generations, to fully populate the area.

The success of the Torrent River Enhancement Project continues today through community and government partnership. In 2006, a new modern structure, complete with underwater viewing windows replaced the fishway that provided passage to the spawning grounds for more that 35 years (seven generations of salon). The new fishway is a real life laboratory for DFO scientists and students. DFO maintains the fishway and works with community groups to monitor salmon passing through the structure. Through the observation window, each salmon is counted as it leaves the trap at the upstream end of the fishway. With the co-operation of anglers, salmon catches downstream from the fishway are also monitored, providing important biological information on the Torrent River salmon stock.

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