More than a century after our once thriving population of Atlantic Salmon was last seen in Lake Ontario, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), together with many other partners, are working to bring Atlantic Salmon back to the lake. This treasured species is an important part of our natural heritage and part of Ontario’s rich biodiversity.
For early European settlers, Atlantic Salmon were an important food fishery and were so abundant that they could be caught by the barrel. Settlement took its toll on the local environment, however, and Atlantic Salmon were one of the first fish species in the Great Lakes to be wiped out by human activities. Decades of rehabilitation and pollution control improved the health of the watersheds, and years of research by the MNRF and others demonstrated it was possible to restore Atlantic Salmon to the tributaries of Lake Ontario, so in 2006 the OFAH and more than 40 partners launched a major initiative to restore a self-sustaining Atlantic Salmon population to Lake Ontario and its streams. This was envisioned as a 20-year restoration program.
The Lake Ontario Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program, also known as Bring Back the Salmon, has four components: fish production and stocking, water quality and habitat enhancement, outreach and education, and research and monitoring. Learn about our latest updates in our summer 2019 newsletter.
Public support is key to the achievement of this historic restoration effort. Helping to stock fish, keeping an angler diary, supporting our corporate sponsors and adopting an Atlantic Salmon are all important ways that people can help bring back the salmon.
The Lake Ontario Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program has been described as a cornerstone of the province’s biodiversity strategy, and the signs are there that the program is succeeding in restoring Atlantic Salmon to Lake Ontario and its tributaries.
The program is structured in five-year phases. Phase I, completed in early 2011, saw more than 2.5 million fish stocked into three target tributaries (Credit River, Duffins Creek, Cobourg Brook), nearly 100 habitat projects completed, and thousands of students and volunteers engaged in the process of returning Atlantic Salmon to our waters. Just four years into the project, the first wild-born Atlantic Salmon in over 110 years was recorded in one of the target tributaries.
Phase II was launched in May, 2011, with a new major sponsor in Ontario Power Generation, and a new partner in TD Friends of the Environment. The LCBO continued to contribute to the restoration effort in Phase II, and Fleming College raised thousands of Atlantic Salmon in their school hatchery. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Trout Unlimited Canada, Ontario Streams, Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Canadian Sportfishing Industry Association, Transport Canada and four Conservation authorities; Toronto and Region, Ganaraska, Credit Valley, and Halton, provided financial or in-kind support. Many community groups and individual landowners continued to pitch in, and across southern Ontario, over 8,000 students raised a year Atlantic Salmon in their classrooms, with help from Let’s Talk Science and the Toronto Zoo.
In Phase II, a further 3.4 million Atlantic Salmon were stocked, a cumulative 10-year total of 198 habitat restoration projects were completed, a new catch-and-release fishery launched, and a major science review on the program undertaken. The end of Phase II saw a new five-year strategy developed, taking lessons learned from the past ten years to guide the program through to the spring of 2021, beginning with the stocking of yearling Atlantic Salmon into the Ganaraska River in April 2016.
In May of 2016, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and its Bring Back the Salmon partners celebrated the launch of the third five-year phase of the program, which features more than 40 partners working to restore the once thriving Atlantic Salmon to Lake Ontario and its tributaries.
The OFAH and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) continue to head the initiative, with integral support from lead sponsor Ontario Power Generation (OPG), TD Friends of the Environment Foundation and multiple conservation authorities, including Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority and Credit Valley Conservation.
The Bring Back The Salmon program includes fish stocking, habitat rehabilitation, research and education. MNRF is raising production salmon in two facilities in addition to Fleming College raising Atlantic Salmon in its teaching hatchery, while OPG’s Pickering nuclear station and TRCA’s Claremont Field Centre, along with almost 100 other facilities, also play host to small Atlantic Salmon classroom hatcheries.
Moving forward, the main focus of the third phase of the program will be geared towards tracking the movements and number of adult Atlantic Salmon.