A fish tale – Islander’s work to enhance Island watersheds.

By Dylan DesRoche

Nov. 6, 2015


Swimming up a river is fun for humans, but for smelt it can be much more difficult.

During its life, a smelt must journey to deeper waters in order to breed. The problem is, to get to deeper waters, the fish must jump up a fish ladder, essentially a stairway for fish.

Smelt are not strong enough to jump up the ladder and usually get trapped between the rungs. That’s where Kellie Lockhart and the South Shore Watershed association come in.

The group has been working on the pond project on Route 13 for the last three years, but last year they began their first construction phase.

With the help of an engineer, the team constructed a natural-bottomed fish ladder, essentially a ramp to make the journey upstream easier.

“We added a piece of stream that was at a three per-cent slope, so it’s kind of like a ramp that goes up instead of a staircase that goes up,” said Lockhart.

Though the ramp makes life for smelts a easier, it isn’t just for them said Lockhart. Their goal is to enhance the habitat for all creatures.

“We enhance the rivers and the habitat for all the different watersheds, for both the residents as in the human residents and the wildlife who happen to live there.”

The project has continued this year, with a second construction phase that built a structure to control the water’s height.

“This year we’re back for a second construction phase. This phase we built a draw down structure, a water height limiting structure. It’s like putting a plug in the bottom of a tub, you can pull the plug and drop the water level and then plug it back at whatever height you want.”

The construction gives the association the ability to control the ecosystem in ways they couldn’t before, Lockhart said.

“We can drop the water level, then dry out a section of the pond which normally would have been under water. We then dig some of that out and refill it without affecting any of the fish.”

Not only does the structure make additional construction easier, it also is a last line of defence against flooding.

“If we have high-water events, we can actually lower the water in the pond and protect the berm and be able to not fear wash out conditions.”

Lockhart hopes the improvements will lead to more people going out and enjoying nature.

“P.E.I. is a tourist destination for fishing. We have the best conditions for growing trout, because all of our streams are spring fed. I would like to see some recreational fishing return to the Island.”