Petitcodiac Fish Recovery Coalition

The PWA is one of the 11 organizations making up The Petitcodiac Fish Recovery Coalition (PFRC). This is an alliance of conservation, angling, municipalities and First Nations groups working together with guidance from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to restore the native fish populations of the Petitcodiac River:

  • The Petitcodiac Watershed Alliancce
  • Fort Folly First Nation
  • Moncton Fish & Game
  • The Petitcodiac Sportsman’s Club
  • The Village of Petitcodiac
  • The Petitcodiac Riverkeeper
  • The Big Salmon River Salmon Association
  • Shepody Fish & Game
  • The Dieppe Fly Tying Club
  • The NB Salmon Council
  • The Atlantic Salmon Federation

Historically, the Petitcodiac River Watershed and its tributaries were home to a diverse migratory fish community which included many thousands of annually returning wild Atlantic Salmon and American shad, a significant source of wealth for local fishermen. The construction of the causeway in 1968 however created an obstruction to natural fish passage, as well as a predatory bottleneck (see image below), and substantially changed the native fish community of the River. As a result populations of several species disappeared from the headwaters: Atlantic salmon, American shad, Atlantic tomcod, and striped bass. Others were greatly reduced: alewife, blueback herring, rainbow smelt, and sea-run brook trout.

predatory bottleneck causeway
Image courtesy of Amec Foster Wheeler, 2015

A 2003 EIA determined that the only practical solution for providing fish passage upstream and downstream for all of these species was to re-establish as close to uninhibited flow as practical to the estuary. The opening of the causeway gates in the spring of 2010, a first step in the Petitcodiac River Restoration Project, now renders their historical habitat accessible again. Stage 2 involved creating aboiteaus along the river to prevent flooding and leaving the gates of the causeway open for further studies. We have presently just entered into Stage 3, the construction of a 250 m long bridge. The process for this is set to begin in the Spring of 2017, and we will continue to monitor and update the public as the process goes.

The PFRC invites you to join us in our efforts to:

  • promote and accelerate the re-establishment of native fish species;
  • ensure the river and estuary fulfill the role of supporting habitat for the native aquatic species that have historically used the river;
  • increase stewardship and conservation activities carried out by citizens throughout the Petitcodiac River Watershed; and
  • raise public awareness of and support for all fish and habitat restoration efforts in the Petitcodiac River.

The Fish Community of the Petitcodiac River System

A fish trap was installed by the PFRC, at the head of tide near Salisbury in 2010 to monitor the presence and relative abundance of the various migratory fish species, which has been lead by Fort Folly Habitat Recovery, with assistance by the PWA. You can see more about this project on the Fort Folly Habitat Recovery website. Seven migratory fish species were observed: sea lamprey, alewife and blueback herring (collectively referred to as gaspereau), brook trout, American eel, Atlantic tomcod and Atlantic sturgeon. The gaspereau, which were previously able to pass upstream due to a gate management strategy, were observed migrating in very large numbers in 2010, as more than 135,000 were captured in the trap. Although most of the other species observed at the trap were scarce in numbers, our work shows that there is potential for restoration of the native fish community of the Petitcodiac River. Information on these species, and a few others found in our area can be found below:

Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), inner Bay of Fundy (iBoF) population

SARA Status: Endangered


The population of inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic salmon are local to the Petitcodiac and Big Salmon River systems. These populations instinctively migrate to back to the headwaters of their birth river (In our orgnization’s case, the Petitcodiac River) to spawn. They then migrate out to the Bay of Fundy where, unlike other populations of Atlantic salmon who travel long distances during the winter, they stay 1-2 winters. When they arrive fresh from the sea it is difficult to distinguish the sex of salmon externally. Later the head of the male becomes elongated and grows a protuberance called a “kype” from the tip of the lower jaw. At this stage male (upper photo) and female (lower photo) are easily distinguished.
Until the construction of the causeway, the Petitcodiac River had an annual salmon run of approximately 2,000 to 10,000 pre-spawning salmon, declining subsequent to construction. As part of DFO’s stocking efforts, juvenile Atlantic salmon are being reintroduced into tributaries of the Petitcodiac River. The releases are part of an experiment by DFO to determine which is the best inner Bay of Fundy salmon population to use to recolonize
the Petitcodiac River system. These juveniles will spend 2-3 years in freshwater as smolts before migrating to the ocean. These juveniles require special attention, since they can easily be mistaken for brook trout (another member of the salmonid family) at a certain life-stage.
The Petitcodiac River system has recently received Freshwater Critical Habitat designation for Atlantic Salmon.

Drawing courtesy of:


American shad (Alosa sapidissima)

american shad

American shad can be easily distinguished by their sharp saw-like scales, or “scutes, along their bellies. Their belly also has a distinct keel, and their body is moderately compressed. They have a lustrous green or greenish blue back with silvery sides and a white belly. Their colors darken to a brownish shade when they enter freshwater to spawn. Adults may also have one or more dark spots in a row, or, more rarely, two rows, behind their operculums or gill flaps. American shad’s lower jaws have pointed tips that fits into v-shaped notch in their upper jaws.
They undertake extensive ocean migrations, spending the summer and fall in the Gulf of Maine and overwintering in deep offshore waters. American shad feed on plankton, and occasionally on small fishes. Feeding ceases during upstream spawning migration and resumes post-spawning during the downstream migration. American shad are an anadromous species, meaning they come into fresh water to spawn. Spawning occurs in both tidal and nontidal freshwater tributaries, and spawning migrations correspond to favorable river water temperatures (13-16 °C).
Historically, American shad probably spawned in virtually every accessible river and tributary along the Atlantic coast. However, blockage of spawning rivers by dams and other impediments and degradation of water quality has severely depleted suitable spawning habitats for this fish.

Drawing courtesy of: MarineBio Conservation Society


Atlantic tomcod (Microgadus tomcod)


Atlantic tomcod occur throughout the coastal waters of the northwest Atlantic Ocean from southern Labrador and northern Newfoundland to Virginia. They generally occur in brackish water, but occasionally are found in freshwater. The body is elongated, and the upper jaw projects past the lower jaw. There is a barbel on the chin.
The second rays of the ventral fins of the tomcod are long, narrow, and tapering. The caudal fin of the tomcod is
rounded, in contrast to the squarish, slightly indented fin of the cod. Coloration of the tomcod is olive, olive-brown, or muddy green, with some yellow on the dorsal surface; lower lateral surfaces have a more yellowish cast,
especially in larger fish; dorsal fins are mottled with dark spots or blotches; and the belly is gray or yellow-white and the margin of the anal fin is olive.
An important forage fish, and a winter spawner, the tomcod was virtually eliminated from the Petitcodiac River by the presence of the causeway. The opening of the gates has produced rapid recolonization by tomcod.

Drawing courtesy of: Encyclopeadia Britannica


Striped bass (Morone saxatilis),

SARA Status – Endangered


Striped bass are more commonly associated with estuaries and coastal waters, they have not been known to spawn in the Petitcodiac, however they often enter the watershed to feed on gaspereau and smelt. Rivers and estuaries are considered to be in a good condition if there is an abundant population of this species. The colonization of the upper Petitcodiac River estuary and lower river by striped bass has been amazing, and incidentally it has carried through to this year. In 2014, > 2,800 striped bass were captured (with more this year) after none were captured in the first year of monitoring in 2010.

Drawing courtesy of:


Sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus)

sea lamprey

The sea lamprey is a primitive, eel-like fish native to the northern Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic, western Mediterranean and Adriatic seas. They have cylindrical bodies 30 to 76 centimetres long with no scales, leathery skin grey to dark brown with dark blotches and a lighter belly. They have no lower jaw, and sharp teeth radiate around a rasp-like tongue at the centre of a large sucker mouth. The fish has large eyes, two dorsal fins, no pelvic or pectoral fins, a single, mid-dorsal nostril, and seven obvious gill openings on each side.
Sea lampreys live part of their lives in salt water, and migrate into the petitcodiac river system for spawning purposes. The eggs hatch into larvae that live on organic matter in stream bottoms until they transform into parasites that migrate downstream. One was recently spotted in Ogilvie brook, just below the Irishtown reservoir’s spillway building a nest by moving rocks with its mouth to form a nest. Despite their appearance, they tend to attach to coldblooded animals, such as fish, so are unlikely to be bitten by this fish. The adult lampreys spend 12 to 20 months feeding on the blood of other fish, until they are ready to travel upstream to spawn. The complete life cycle usually lasts five to nine years.

Drawing courtesy of: University of California Santa Cruz Dvision of Physical & Biological Sciences


Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus)


Feeding primarily on the tiny invertebrate organisms known as zooplankton, alewives seldom grow more than twelve inches long at ma­turity. Adults and juveniles are eaten by almost every carnivorous creature that shares their environment: fish, whales, dolphins, porpoises, eagles, gulls, etc. Alewife live in the sea and migra­te into rivers to spawn in the springtime. The juveniles migrating out to the ocean in the summer and fall are consumed by resident fish, birds, and mammals. Another critical role for alewives is as a buffer for other species against predation. Juvenile Atlantic salmon (known as smolts) migrate downriver to the sea at the same time that adult alewives migrate upriver to spawn. Since there are many more alewives than smolts, any given Atlantic salmon smolt has a better chance of avoiding being eaten by a hungry predaators than it would have if migrating in isolation. So those people who are in charge of restoring Atlantic salmon are also busily restoring alewife populations.
The causeway gates created a barrier to fish passage which led to the decline in the populations of species such as alewife.

Drawing courtesy of: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation


Blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis)


The blueback herring is a diadromous fish, meaning it migrates between fresh and saltwater. Blueback herring move into coastal rivers during March and April. The spawning site can be from the tidal zone to more than 100 miles upstream. Upon spawning, the adults return to offshore areas to overwinter. The newly hatched fish remain in the lower riverine area for several months before moving to sea. The blueback herring has a bluish color on the upper side of its body with silver on the rest. There is usually one small dark spot located on the upper side of the body just beyond the operculum or gill flap.

Gaspereau is a term used collectively for both blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis) and alewives (Alosa pseudoharengus), due to the difficulty in distinguishing between the two species non-lethally, and the fact that their spawning runs occur almost simultaneously. In 2010 gaspereau accounted for 96% of the total number of fish caught in the trap, while in 2012 they were 87%, by 2013 they were 81%, and in 2014 they were 53%. The number of gaspereau caught in 2015 was only 36% of the total catch at the trap. This progressive reduction in gaspereau as a proportion of the total catch can be partially accounted for by increases in the numbers of other species, but is due primarily to lower total numbers of gaspereau being caught. Such results naturally lead to speculation about a decline in these two species, both of which are native and desirable in the river. It should be noted that the PFRC made changes to the time they set the fish trap up to avoid initial migration of gaspereau, as many of these fish during their large springtime migrations where being trapped in the net at the same time, causing mortality in some.

Drawing courtesy of: South Carolina Department of Natural Resources


Brook Trout (Salvilinus fontinalis)

The Brook trout in a member of the Salmonidae family, with dark-olive colored sides with pale, often yellow, spots and scattered red spots with a lighter-colored halo. The edges of the pectoral, pelvic and anal fins are bright white, outlined by a black line. The belly of the brook trout along with the pectoral, pelvic and anal fins can be a vibrant red to orange in spawning trout.
They consume aquatic & terrestrial insects, crayfish, salamanders, frogs and fish. Brook trout prefer small, cool, clear headwater streams with well-oxygenated water. Brook trout spawning occurs during October and November. The female constructs the nest, called a redd, which is protected by both the male and female trout. The eggs are incubated over the winter, and hatch after 100 days of 5 degrees celcius, or 50 days at 10 degrees celcius. This is referred to as the growing degree days.

Drawing courtesy of: South Carolina Department of Natural Resources


Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax)

2smelt_sfdhdbk_130aainbow smelt

Populations of Rainbow smelt are widely distributed throughout eastern and western North America, inhabiting coastal waters as well as countless inland freshwater lakes. On the Atlantic coast they are found from Labrador to New Jersey. In fish, the direction that the pupil are looking towards indicates their habitat. Rainbow smelt’s eyes point slightly upward, demonstrating its preference for the bottoms of coastal waters during daylight hours, as it is senstive to both light and warmwater temperatures. This gives it the ability to look for predators.
In appearance, the American smelt is a slender, silver fish, with a pale green or olive-green back. Fresh from the water, the sides of the fish take on a purple, blue or pink iridescent hue. Most specimens are less than 20 cm long, although some measuring 35 cm have been found. The scales on the smelt are large and easily detached, and at spawning time those on the males develop small tubercles, resembling tiny buttons which serve as a mark of their sex. The lower jaw of the fish projects beyond the upper one and the entire mouth extends beyond the middle of the eye. On the tip of the tongue are large teeth. One large dorsal fin is located about halfway along the back and, behind that, a small adipose fin.
Rainbow smelt were caught at the trap in 2015, the third season that they have been detected. Only two were caught, which doubled our total catch across all 6 years. Previously one had been caught in 2012 and one in 2013. In each of those previous instances only a single individual was caught, both times in August, well outside of the species’ spawning run in the spring. In 2015 the first smelt was caught on the initial day of sampling, May 28th, and the second not until September 29th. The first was a bit late relative to their spawning in April, but the earliest possible in the trap given the 2015 sampling schedule. Smelt spawn prior to the point in time when fixed trap nets can be safely installed in the river, so they have never been likely to be captured.

Drawing courtesy of: SeafoodSource


American eel (Anguilla rostrata),

COSEWIC Status – Threatened


In the past the PWA, in partnership with U de M, installed a fish ladder at the spillway of the Irishtown Reservoir, in the Irishtown Nature Park to monitor populations of eel. Fort Folly works on projects involving elvers and yellow eels which aim to gather information on abundance, habitat use, and recruitment of juveniles into the rivers. Many of the American eel are caught through our smolt wheels, the fish net trap on the Petitcodiac River, the smolt wheel on the Pollett River and also through electrofishing. This species differs in appearance according to its life-stage. It was recently discovered that this species reproduces after migrating all the way to the Sargasso Sea, and lives in freshwater, saltwater or a combination of the two.
Eel numbers in 2015 were up, well beyond anything seen since the gates were opened. There were 2,613 eels handled at the trap between May and October. This echoed what had been observed in May and June at the Rotary Screw Trap (RST) on the Pollett where, although salmon smolts were the target, downstream migrating eels as bycatch were the dominant species encountered. This increased observation of activity is quite encouraging considering the widespread declines in populations of this species across its range; Eels were designated as “Special Concern” by COSEWIC in 2006, and raised to “Threatened” in May 2012 after review. This species is being considered for listing under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA), but currently it has no SARA status. Public consultations are currently underway (from November 23rd 2015 to March 28th 2016) to evaluate the listing of American eels under SARA.

Drawing courtesy of: American Eel Sustainability Association


Atlantic Sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus),

SARA Status – Threatened


Atlantic sturgeons are prehistoric fish that have existed for more than 120 million years. They were around during the Cretaceous period, when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Part of the Atlantic sturgeon’s scientific name, oxyrhynchus, means “sharp snout”. Atlantic sturgeon are an anadromous bony fish that are distinguishable from other fish by five rows of bony scutes along the length of their body, a protrusible mouth, and heterocercal tail. They are slow growing and late maturing, and have been recorded to reach up to 16 feet in length and 60 years of age. Atlantic sturgeon can be found in major rivers, estuaries, bays and coastal waters. This species spends most of its life in the ocean and tends to travel alone, rather than in schools. These fish prey upon benthic creatures including clams and other mollusks, crustaceans, worms and insects. As bottom-feeders, they use their snout to root through the mud and find their prey, then suck it into their mouth like a vacuum. This species prefers soft-bottomed estuaries and coastal waters and large freshwater systems with rocky areas and fast-flowing water for spawning.
Because of the bony plates covering its body, the Atlantic sturgeon has few natural predators. Human activities such as pollution, historic overfishing and damming of rivers threaten sturgeon. Although this species is not known to spawn in the Petitcodiac River System, it was historically fished and is still observed in the lower estuary. A six-foot sturgeon was found deceased in 2001 50-metres above the causeway. It is thought to have died due to rapid changes in salinity and temperature.

Drawing courtesy of: Maryland Department of Natural Resources


White Perch (Morone americana)


White perch are generally deep-bodied fishes with complete lateral lines, ctenoid scales, and an opercular spine. The pelvic fin contains 1 spine and 5 rays, the caudal fin has 17 principal rays, and there are 7 branchiostegal rays, 3 anal spines, and 2 dorsal fins. They have a silvery green-gray or dark color above with silver or brass sides and a white underside. Often the caudal and pelvic fins have a reddish colored base. The body is oblong and dorsoventrally compressed with a depressed head, and a pointed nose with an oblique terminal mouth.
They are a small, anadromous, schooling, polyandrous species who are fairly diverse in spawning habitat. They can reproduce in water with salinity levels as high as 4.2 ppt, in tidal or non tidal, clear or murky, slow moving or fast waters. The lack of a need for specialized breeding habitat allows them to reproduce in almost any water system, from lakes and ponds to estuaries or rivers. Spawning always occurs in water less than 7.01 m deep.

Drawing courtesy of: New Hampshire Fish and Game


White sucker (Catostomus commersonii)


Suckers are a family of freshwater fishes (the Catostomidae) that includes about 65 species worldwide, with most of these in North America. Nearly all species in the family have the characteristic downward-pointing “sucker” mouth. The White sucker has a broad, rounded head with a prominent downward-pointing, sucker-like mouth. It is light brown or beige coloured and have three, very distinct, dark spots on their sides: one behind the gill plate, another about mid body and the third before the tail. It’s body is cylindrical and is covered with large prominent scales. All its fins are broad with thick rays within. The tail is broad and moderately forked.
The preferred habitat of this fish species are shallow bays, and slow moving rivers, but they regularly occur in a wide range of aquatic habitats. Spawning migrations can bring suckers into very small tributaries of rivers or lakes, where, on occasion, they may become stranded in small pools or the upper reaches of small streams.
White suckers have a vast host of predators, largely because they are often one of the most abundant fish species in lakes and rivers. As such they are often a major step on the way up the aquatic food chain. Suckers are preyed upon by many predatory fishes, such as Atlantic salmon, eaten by birds, mammals, as well as commonly are used as bait.

Drawing courtesy of: Cornell University


Invasive Fish Species in the Petitcodiac River System


Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu)

smallmouth bass
The smallmouth bass derives its name from the fact that the rear end of the lower jaw does not extend past the eye, while that of a largemouth does. The Smallmouth bass was illegally introduced into the headpond created by the Petitcodiac River causeway sometime in the 1990’s. Now that the estuary extends to its natural reach, this invasive species may spread to new areas of the watershed. This could result in competition with other fish for habitat and other resources, disturb the ecosystem and negatively affect re-establishment efforts of the rivers native fish species. Smallmouth bass numbers in the petitcodiac are now virtually non-existant, with one or 2 showing up every second year or so. Their disappearance is another indication of the re-establishment of the Petitcodiac River System.

Drawing courtesy of: Michigan Department of Natural Resources


Chain Pickerel (Esox niger)

This summer, Chain pickerel were found at our fish trap. These are a very agressive fish which also often out-compete native species.The chain pickerel has an elongated, narrow body. It has a dark green back, green to bronze sides and a white belly. The sides have a dark chain-like pattern and there is a dark vertical line extending down from the eye. The slightly rounded dorsal fin is set far backover the anal fin, and the caudal fin is deeply forked. The large mouth is similar in shape to a duck’s bill and has many sharp teeth. Submandibular pores 7 or 8 (rarely 9) and branchiostegal rays 14-17, most often 6 + 9 (6 on ceratohyal, 9 on epihyal) on each side and the opercula are fully scaled. The average size is 15 – 18 inches and can attain sizes greater than 30 inches.

Drawing courtesy of: Arkansas Game & Fish Commission


Brown Bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus)

Brown bullhead were illegaly introduced into the petitcodiac river system. For native fish species, this predatory fish is a disaster. They are scarce during the day but come out at night to feed, searching the bottom of a lake or river for food. Bullhead catfish are opportunistic feeders and will eat just about anything: frogs, snakes, birds, crustaceans, snails, worms, leeches, fish, plants and seeds. They eat the food of native fish species and will even eat the native fish themselves.

Drawing courtesy of: Royal BC Museum


What you can do for species at risk in the Petitcodiac Watershed

The Petitcodiac River watershed was home to several fish species; some are now of concern, some are designated at risk in Canada by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), and some are further protected by the Federal and NB Provincial Species at Risk Acts (SARA).

  • Learn to identify and differentiate them
  • Avoid interference with their normal behaviour, and
  • Do not disturb their habitat
  • Report any poaching of, harassment, or suspicious activity involving these at risk species

In response to an ongoing need for conservation and protection, if you see and of the species mentioned in the link, contact the PWA at 384-3369, or any member of the PFRC to provide a location of the sighting and any other relevant information.

Together with Crime Stoppers, you can ensure the protection of Atlantic salmon during a critial period of their life cycle. A collaboration of six law enforcementorganizations will be monitoring our rivers for their protection. If you see someone catching or harassment of Inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic salmon, call crime stoppers at 1-800-222-8477, send a text message, or use their secure website @, and you may qualify for a cash reward of up to $2000.
More information on this initiative here.

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