Atlantic Whitefish Recovery Project
The Petite Rivière Watershed, in Lunenburg County, is the only place on earth that the Atlantic whitefish (Coregonus huntsmani) is found, a salmonid, which is facing threat of extinction. The Atlantic whitefish was the first fish species in Canada to be classified as "endangered" by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in 1984. This status was reconfirmed by COSEWIC in 2000. It is also protected under Maritime Fishery Regulations, the federal Species at Risk Act, and the Nova Scotia Endangered Species Act. Historically, it was also found in the Tusket River Watershed in Yarmouth County, but has not been seen since 1996 and now considered extirpated from that system. The Atlantic whitefish are found in the lakes Millipsigate, Minamkeak and Hebb, all part of the Petite Rivière Watershed. Both natural and human induced pressures and threats have contributed to the decline and continued low abundance of the species. These pressures and threats include: acidification of aquatic habitat as a result of acid rain, poor land use practices, barriers to fish passage, and the introduction of non-native or exotic species into the watershed.
Coastal Action initiated the Atlantic Whitefish Recovery Project (AWRP) in April 2004. This project started with a focus on raising public awareness of this globally endangered fish species, as well as attempting to build a strong stewardship foundation in Lunenburg County. Effective stewardship education tools have been developed and distributed, and community networks have been created.
Coastal Action and Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) have teamed up to work on the Atlantic Whitefish Recovery Project. The ultimate goal of the project is to stabilize the current population of the Atlantic whitefish, and if possible, to reestablish the anadromous nature of the fish, which will in turn expand their current range.
Trap-nets at the mouth of the Petite Rivière have been set up in the past and have been unproductive, suggesting that the Atlantic whitefish has been landlocked and has no access to the ocean due to damming of the river. The Atlantic whitefish also has pressures of competing with the non-native fish species smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) and chain pickerel (Esox niger).
Work is currently being done on addressing what the next steps are in the recovery efforts; attempting to fill present information gaps, build on existing known information, continue to increase public awareness and knowledge of this species, as well as to engage community volunteers in working towards achieving the goals outlined in the recovery strategy.