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New fish counter keeps an eye out for Atlantic salmon

 New fish counter keeps an eye out for Atlantic salmon

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​Fish in the Ganaraska River in Port Hope have become the latest reality TV stars thanks to a state-of-the-art camera that monitors their movements underwater.

Recently installed as part of a fish ladder in Corbett’s Dam, the new Iceland-built Riverwatcher fish counter is the first of its kind in the Great Lakes and only the second in Canada. It was purchased by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) to support the Lake Ontario Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program.

As a long-time sponsor of the biodiversity program, OPG works with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) and MNRF to restore a self-sustaining Atlantic salmon population more than a century after the species disappeared from Lake Ontario.

A returning adult Atlantic salmon.
A returning Chinook salmon.

​Over the last two years, OFAH has stocked more than 120,000 Atlantic salmon in the Ganaraska River, a historically important tributary for fish. Now, the new camera will help detect any Atlantic salmon returning upstream next year from Lake Ontario, and provide valuable information on their health, numbers and migration patterns, as well as information on other fish, such as rainbow trout, chinook and coho salmon.

“The new fish counter will help address one of our chief challenges – seeing returning adult Atlantic salmon amidst all the other species of migratory salmon and trout,” said Chris Robinson, Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program Coordinator with OFAH. “It will also help manage all of those other species.”

Video of fish going up and down the river can be viewed on the Riverwatcher Daily website. The counter uses infrared scanning technology and a high-resolution camera to identify individual species and even measure a fish’s estimated length. It also charts the daily movements of fish going up and down past the box-shaped counter.

Previously, the Ganaraska River was monitored by an older fish counter, but it was rudimentary compared to the newer technology and was in disrepair.

“Multiple fish can come through at one time and the old counter couldn’t always keep up with a heavy fish run,” Robinson said. “The new camera lets us sort that out easily. We’ve had up to eight fish at one time in front of the camera.”

Now fully operational, Robinson has modest expectations for what the camera will pick up when the Atlantic salmon begin returning to the river in 2018 and 2019. He hopes to see at least a few hundred Atlantic salmon.

“We have modest expectations to start,” Robinson said. “This camera will help identify when they’ll be coming into the river, if they’re coming early, or if they’re coming in later. It will help with the actual count and also help us to understand their biology better.”