Le Soleil, Quebec, May 14th 2010
(Gaspé) A 1.2 km log jam is strangling one of the most renowned salmon rivers in Quebec, the St-John in Gaspe. Its managers are determined to find a solution this year, to the tune of over $300,000.00 in studies.
Sylvain Ouellet owns a lot on the shore of the St-John. In order to reach its outer reaches at this time of year, with the river at its highest level, he must row two different boats and wade through thigh-high water. Once arrived at his destination, he climbs on a log and points to the pile of wood on the river. «It’s sad to see this. One of the most beautiful salmon rivers in Quebec», he sighs, lighting a cigarette.
The last two summers, he and his neighbour use a chainsaw to free a fraction of the log jam. «We do the best we can, we want to save our wood lots, says Mr. Ouellet. But it doesn’t accomplish much.» The wood has been accumulating at the mouth of the St-John since the 1960’s. But last year, the log jam stretch up river past a secondary channel used by salmon heading for their spawning grounds. Anglers and guides found 109 dead salmon, covered in sores. The illness affected 200 salmon, out of a population of 1000, estimates the “Societe de gestion des rivières du grand Gaspé”, which manages fishing on the town’s three rivers.
After some analysis, the Societe’s director, Jean Roy, is almost certain that the log jam is the guilty party. «The stress and the injuries seem to have been caused by the passage under the logs. It isn’t a bacterium or a virus. And the water quality has remained the same. «A decimated population would be difficult to overcome, explains Mr. Roy. «Salmon which are born in a river return to the same one. It can take 20 or 30 years to re-establish salmon populations in a river. »
The end of the St-John River would deal a hard blow to the economy of Gaspe, and to that of the Societe. «The St-John is our cash cow, with 65 percent of our revenue, figures the director Only at the Société de gestion, We have 35 employees. And the spinoffs for Gaspe surpass 4 million dollars.» This spring, the Societe and its partners are undertaking 3 studies. Forty salmon will be captured below the log jam and tagged with transmitters. Thanks to receivers placed along in the various channels, they will be followed up until spawning season in the fall. An engineering firm will analyse the evolution of the log jam and will propose solutions in order to control it.
Also, researchers from l'Université du Québec à Rimouski will try to understand why so much wood seems to find its way down the St-John River year after year. As early as the beginning of June, Mr. Roy will watch the salmon closely «If we notice the same symptoms as last year, he says, we will block the channel with a barrier and open a breach in the log jam.