Major Science Review of the Restoration Program (2006-2013)
Restoring a native species that was extirpated (locally extinct) takes a long time, and the LOASRP was founded in 2006 with the expectation that it would take time and iterative learning to bring back a self-sustaining population of this famous fish. A series of benchmarks covering 20 years of restoration was developed in the 1990s to guide the progress of restoration. The program is built around an adaptive management cycle of planning-implementing-monitoring-evaluating, and in the winter of 2014, a major science review took the information learned through our monitoring and research programs and put it through a critical evaluation with outside experts brought in to provide their Atlantic Salmon expertise and advice.
The review is available to the public here (link opens in new window)
Some key findings of the review:
- Atlantic Salmon nests and wild juveniles (naturally reproduced from adult fish stocked as young fish) were discovered in numbers exceeding the number expected based on observed returning adults – the fish are able to complete their life cycle.
- Thiamine (vitamin B1) levels 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 needs to be addressed.
- 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 species in the rivers, and possible straying to other
- 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.
The program partners will respond to the science advice and management implications in the review through a 5-year plan (in development), with updated objectives and strategies for achieving the goal of the program.
Monitoring/assessment/research are integral aspects of the program will allow us to adapt in response to successes and challenges as we move forward, part of an adaptive management cycle of Planning – Implementing – Monitoring – Evaluating. Since Atlantic salmon have been extinct for over 110 years in Lake Ontario, much is to be learned about them in the modern Lake Ontario, such as the details of their life cycle, habitat use, and food base.
To that end, the program partners are assessing the survival and reproductive success of fish stocked at various life stages, so we can determine best-bet strategies to improve overall program success. The
genetic strains of Atlantic salmon are similarly evaluated. We examine the habitat and prey sources Atlantic salmon are utilizing in the lake to identify potential bottlenecks to survival, growth and reproduction.
We work with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) and conservation authorities to collect information on both the fish communities and the physical and biological environment in the streams. These baseline data help to identify areas in need of habitat restoration or water quality improvements, as well as provide information from which we can evaluate future restoration actions.
We also engage anglers to help us to monitor salmon in Lake Ontario through an angler diary program with MNRF. This provides important information on adult distribution in the lake, as well as data on the survival of fish in the lake. MNRF and conservation authority staff also monitor fishways and weirs in the tributaries for returning adults.