How did the fish cross the road? It was a culvert operation! While that may be pretty funny, clogged culverts — those small tunnels that go under roads to allow water to pass — are no joke. A single poorly installed or degraded culvert can block many kilometres of high-quality feeding and spawning habitat, isolate fish populations and restrict species migration to safer areas.
Habitat fragmentation like this is one of the biggest threats to wildlife across Canada, including in New Brunswick’s Saint John River/Wolastoq watershed where we’re helping address this issue with an innovative new plan called Priority Threat Management.
With support from Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Canada Nature Fund for Aquatic Species at Risk, we’ve teamed up with local partners like Nashwaak Watershed Association Inc (NWAI) on habitat restoration projects such as improving aquatic connectivity.
There are over 980 road-stream crossings in the Nashwaak River portion of the Wolastoq and NWAI has been surveying and assessing culverts and other crossings since 2017. They’ve found that less than 40 per cent of these culverts actually allow fish to move through the road-stream crossings — the majority are considered barriers to fish passage.
This is particularly problematic for species like Atlantic salmon that are migratory and require access to wide varieties of habitat. When we unblock those culvert passageways, we connect species with the habitats that they need to spawn and survive.
To remove these barriers, the NWAI got their boots dirty in 2020 — installing fish ladders and other structures that help to facilitate fish passage. This opened a total of 46 kilometres of stream that was previously inaccessible to fish, that’s longer than a marathon! This habitat is also considered climate-safe, meaning that fish should be able to access the habitat for many years to come.
This project will provide great benefits for species like Atlantic salmon, American eel, and shortnose sturgeon, and other migratory fish species that need access to habitat up and down the river system in New Brunswick.
Creating a healthier river ecosystem
On top of these activities, NWAI also planted over 1,900 native trees and shrubs, and delivered 1,830 willow stakes to 43 different private landowners throughout the watershed that were in need of riparian restoration to stabilize the riverbanks. Stream cleanups also took place at all of the sites that were assessed as part of the project work, resulting in healthier, more connected aquatic habitat.
These projects are the first we’ve implemented within the Wolastoq watershed since completing the priority threat management process and developing a plan for wildlife recovery. Thanks to this work, we know that by putting 15 conservation strategies into action, we are helping recover 40 at-risk species. In fact, we’re already excitedly planning our next field projects!