Salmon are native to the world’s two biggest oceans and the rivers draining into them. The Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) is the only salmon species in the Atlantic Ocean. Atlantic salmon are anadromous; that is, they spent their young life in rivers, migrate to the sea to grow, and then return to the river in which they were born to spawn.
In its natural setting, the female salmon lays thousands of eggs, depositing them in gravel on the riverbed. One or more males then discharge sperm over the falling eggs to fertilize them. The female covers the eggs with several centimetres of gravel. The ova begin to develop right after fertilization and typically hatch in the spring.
When hatched, the fish have a yolk sac containing food attached to their bodies. Once the yolk sac is consumed, the fish begin their journey up through the gravel of the riverbed to the top of the water. At this point, they are referred to as “swim up fry.”
Atlantic Salmon undergo a number of physiological and behavioural changes as they mature. In their first autumn, they develop into parr with vertical stripes and spots for camouflage. They remain in the river for one to three years, continuing to grow until they are between 10 and 25 centimetres in length. At that point, in preparation for a life at sea, the fish become silvery and begin swimming with the current, rather than against it as they have been since birth.
As they grow in their ocean surroundings, fewer predators are able to feed on them. Their rate of growth is therefore critical to survival. Salmon boast an exceptional homing instinct that allows them to find their river of origin when it is time to spawn, despite sometimes very lengthy migrations.
The Aboriginal Fishery Strategy (AFS) program was launched after the 1992 Sparrow Decision, which reaffirmed the Aboriginal Right to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes. The strategy provides for the management, protection and enhancement of fisheries resources and fish habitat. Under this strategy, the Abegweit First Nation is allowed up to 200 adult Atlantic salmon per year for use in ceremonial rites. In recent years, however, the community has refrained from using those fish due to low stocks. This shortage of fish has also resulted in a “catch and release” restriction on the recreational fishery.