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OFAH Bring Back the Salmon program

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THUNDER BAY,  ONTARIO   -----   November 11, 2014  ---   Atlantic Salmon were among the first fish species in the Great Lakes to be eliminated by human Lake Ontario Salmonactivities, becoming extinct in lake Ontario by the turn of the 20th century.

But today there is good news. More than a century after our once thriving population of Atlantic Salmon were last seen in Lake Ontario, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), together with Ontario Power Generation and many other partners, have reached important milestones in the effort to bring Atlantic Salmon back to the lake and its tributaries.

The MNRF has released a major scientific document outlining the results of the science-based Bring Back the Salmon program over the past eight years. This science review, which can be viewed in its entirety at www.bringbackthesalmon.ca, took the information learned through the program's monitoring and research programs and put it through a critical evaluation, bringing in outside Atlantic Salmon experts to provide their expertise and advice.

The study showed the Bring Back the Salmon program has exceeded benchmarks for in-stream survival and growth of juvenile Atlantic Salmon through their first OFAH summer, extremely important indicators of stream health and restoration progress. Other positive signs the study notes are the presence of Atlantic Salmon nests, wild juveniles and wild adults in the rivers. The study also points to some challenges, however, such as the low observed numbers of adults returning to the rivers, particularly from fish released as older juveniles. This challenge is being addressed with changes in fish culture.

"Restoring a lost species is a long-term process. We are facing those challenges by learning how Atlantic Salmon are faring in modern Lake Ontario and feeding that information back into our restoration activities," explained OFAH Executive Director Angelo Lombardo. "But the science is showing we're on the right track. Atlantic Salmon have already begun reproducing. That tells us Atlantic Salmon are completing their life cycle in the lake and rivers, which is a significant milestone in our efforts."

The BBTS partners will respond to the science advice and management implications in the report through a five-year plan (in development). The program partners will continue to work hard in all four core program areas: 1) improving coldwater stream habitat; 2) educating and engaging the public and our youth about conservation and stewardship; 3) growing and stocking fish; and 4) conducting the science needed for success in the complex modern Lake Ontario.

Some key findings from the review:

Lake Ontario and its watersheds are a complex ecosystem, and there is a significant challenge in observing returning adult Atlantic Salmon based on the timing of their arrival in the rivers, the numbers of other salmon and trout species in the rivers, and possible straying to other rivers.
Atlantic Salmon nests, wild juveniles and wild adults were discovered in numbers exceeding the number expected based on observed returning adults.
Levels of the critical vitamin B1 (Thiamine) in Atlantic Salmon are high enough to support successful natural reproduction.
Most returning adults were from fish stocked as spring fingerlings (the smallest size/age typically stocked).
In-stream survival and growth of juvenile Atlantic Salmon through their first summer generally met or exceeded benchmarks.
Survival of older stocked fish and juveniles leaving the river (smolting) was low and is being addressed with changes in fish culture.
Competition with other salmon and trout species needs to be monitored but is not a critical limiting factor, nor is harvest in the open water of Lake Ontario.
Background:

From the 1700s, European settlers arriving in the Lake Ontario basin harvested Atlantic Salmon as an important source of food. The pressure of this fishery, combined with serious environmental degradation, dam building and ecological changes in Lake Ontario and its streams, led to major declines in Atlantic Salmon abundance by the mid-19th century.

By 1896, the species was declared extirpated (locally extinct) in the lake, one of the first fish species in the Great Lakes to be eliminated by human activities.

BBTS involves more than 40 partners. The OFAH and MNRF head the initiative with support from lead sponsor Ontario Power Generation. The LCBO and TD Friends of the Environment Foundation are also major contributors.

With over 100,000 members, subscribers and supporters, and 720 member clubs, the OFAH is the province's largest nonprofit, fish and wildlife conservation-based organization and the VOICE of anglers and hunters. For more information, visit www.bringbackthesalmon.ca or like Bring Back the Salmon on Facebook (ontariosalmon) and follow on Twitter (@ontariosalmon).


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