Salmon may swim again in Rennie’s River

Paul Smith
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Last week I wrote about black powder and muzzleloading rifles.

I planned to continue with Part II this week, and tell you all about my very first black powder moose, and the preparation leading up to the successful hunt. But there is something more urgent I want pass on to my readers, a timelier story about an event that’s happening right now.

Over the first two weeks of November, salmon eggs are being placed into Rennie’s River by dozens of hard-working volunteers.

These are individuals of environmental conscience who are willing to give their time and energy to rejuvenate a river where salmon swim no more.

St John’s is the oldest city in North America. Hundreds of years of industry and urban abuse have certainly annihilated the original stock of salmon that inhabited the river.

There aren’t a whole lot of salmon rivers flowing though cities anywhere in the world.

That said, things might be different nowadays, as people are more inclined to let the fish live.

There’s a bit of a green revolution going on. What the industrial revolution destroyed, greener times might restore.

There was a time when people needed food so badly that a salmon swimming in a city river stood little chance of survival. They ended up in cooking pots feeding hungry kids much needed protein.

Although there are still needy and hungry people amongst us, there are other ways to put food on the table.

The Salmonid Association of Eastern Newfoundland (SAEN) has initiated and spearheaded the effort to restore salmon to Rennie’s River.

SAEN director Scott Nightingale headed up the project and busted his brains and back to deliver the breath of life to the waterway.

Juvenile salmon would have a much better chance to survive if they were actually hatched from eggs incubated in the river.

Previous attempts to seed salmon in the river were attempted by simply releasing baby salmon or fry into the river. It’s very likely that the brown trout that populated the river over the last century made short work of these vulnerable juveniles.

Salmon, like any other creature in the wild, learn from observation. Freshly hatched salmon eggs or alevin will dart cautiously about observing what others of their kind are doing. They see brethren get eaten and learn from it, slowly adapting and learning how to survive in the wild.

By the time they are free swimming fry, they have learned a thing or two about staying alive in the river’s nurturing but unforgiving ecosystem. They will avoid hungry trout. On the other hand, fry raised in an isolated hatchery are less adapted and typically have a lower survival rate when released in the river.

Scott decided to use in-stream incubation units of two types; the Whitlock–Vibert and Jordan Scotty designs.

These devices are like salmon having their cake and eating it, too. With the protection of these devices, 90 per cent of the eggs will survive compared to somewhere between five and 20 per cent in the raw river bed.

Fungus infection is virtually eliminated and eggs are protected from predators and silt suffocation. Also, the eggs are hatched in the river, where they will quickly adapt and learn how to survive. It is the best of both worlds.

Where would the eggs come from? The Environment Resources Management Association (ERMA) runs a long-term salmon enhancement project on the Exploits River. Over the past couple of decades, the Exploits has mushroomed from a small fledging run of fish to one of the most prolific salmon fisheries in the world.

It is an amazing success story that was achieved though varied sorts of habitat restoration and enhancement.

ERMA collects and fertilizes salmon eggs for their own work each autumn and they kindly agreed to donate 100,000 eggs to the Rennie’s River project. People with common goals must collaborate. That’s how important stuff gets done.

This month, about 20,000 salmon eggs are being distributed in the upper portion of Rennie’s River, 200 per box in a total of 100 Vibert boxes, best suited for this less turbulent water.

Further down river, in deeper, more chaotic water, the Scotty design is being utilized with a total of 80,000 eggs going into 80 boxes. The seeding is being done by a team of dedicated volunteers over a two-week period in early November.

But many hands make light work. That’s why I squeezed this piece in between my moose hunting and black powder tale. If you have the time, willingness and strong lower back — please give SAEN a call and they will put you to work. Give a day, a week, a few hours or whatever you can spare. The SAEN office number is 709-722-9300, or you can email them at

The spawning beds were already prepared ahead of time. The incubation boxes need to be buried in the riverbed gravel with water flowing freely through the cells.

Over the summer of 2012, the Conservation Corps of Newfoundland did the difficult, backbreaking excavation work in preparation for autumn seeding of the river. Holes were dug and filled with pea stone, and iron rods were erected and tagged to mark the spots for the incubation boxes to be set up.

As I said, like-minded individuals must combine their efforts for the common good. Come springtime, baby salmon will swim by the thousands in Rennie’s River.

No matter how many volunteers donate their time, a project of this magnitude costs plenty of money. There’s nothing better than a corporate sponsor. The nickel-producing giant Vale has committed to spending $45,000 over five years to restore salmon to Rennie’s River.

Congratulations to all who worked hard to make this project possible. One day we may cast Blue Charms over salmon in the middle of St. John’s.


Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at

Organizations: Salmonid Association of Eastern Newfoundland, Environment Resources Management Association

Geographic location: North America, Exploits River, Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • David
    November 08, 2012 - 11:16

    World class trout fishing on the Bow River right in the heart of downtown Calgary has never been at risk...why? Because the citizens of Calgary aren't genetically wired to poach, and they are able to think of better, more positive and productive things to do.

  • shane
    November 08, 2012 - 10:03

    is this guy for real....well at least this article has something regarding the province instead of his worldly travels that have NOTHING to do with us or interest very few.SAEN trying to justify our egos for over 20 yrs

  • luke
    November 08, 2012 - 09:58

    salmon are in th lower rennies and have been for yrs...what a crock...restock rennies ...again?same ol same ol with this group what a stupid waste of money...most rivers in newfoundland in trouble and this crowd wants to help big business look pretty..rock on boys keep lookn down your noses at the common man

  • David
    November 05, 2012 - 14:13

    You think?! In the ancestral homeland of the genetically pre-disposed poacher?! I'd be on the lookout for pigs flying over Torbay airport first.