The Salmon of Torrent River — A Tumultuous History

The Town of Hawkes Bay was named by explorer James Cook for Admiral Hawke during an expedition in the mid seventeenth century. As early as 1783 the French enjoyed seasonal fishing rights from the British at Hawkes Bay, yet, French and British settlement was strictly prohibited. This did not deter settlement from occurring and fishing Salmon from the Torrent for sustenance. Fishing methods utilized were not kind to the salmon stocks. Blocking streams and using nets were typical. Eventually, the toll on salmon numbers at the Torrent would be revealed. In 1880, Captain W.R. Kennedy of the British Royal Navy remarked, “The Torrent Salmon stocks were nearly exhausted by years of abuse.” In 1904, when France traded its rights along the Hawkes Bay portion of the French Shore for coffee plantations in Africa, the British were finally able to place restrictions on the fishing of salmon. However, the damage to the stocks would be seemingly irreparable.

In 1933 the International Power & Paper Company began cutting pulpwood in the forests behind Hawkes Bay. An economic boom loomed in the distance as scores of workers headed to the woods and lumber camps. In 1948 Bowater-Lloyd purchased logging rights which brought unprecedented grow with a town, roads and other infrastructure to accommodate production. According to Lee Patey, former fisheries officer, logs jammed the pools so much that “you could stand on the wood and walk up the falls without getting you feet wet.” Logging damaged the salmon stocks. Log runs down the Torrent occurring in May and June destroyed incubating eggs and newly hatched fish, as well as damaged the natural life sustaining habitat of the developing salmon. Although this industry lasted just 2 decades, the ecological impact on the Torrent was devastating.

Intervention at Last — the Fishway

In 1959, a new highway opened up the Torrent to greater numbers of anglers. The threat of over fishing would place even more stress on the salmon stocks. Clearly, something had to be done to protect this precious resource. In 1965, a bold plan looked at sending salmon to the upper reaches of the Torrent for a new potential spawning and rearing habitat. Because of the 10 metre high waterfall, which is located about 2 km from the mouth of the Torrent River; salmon were prevented from migrating upstream. Research was showing that if salmon had access above the falls, the salmon population would improve. So, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) developed a plan to construct a Fishway, consisting of 34 gradually elevated pools, referred to as a salmon ladder, which resembled a series of stairs. But, because instinctually, salmon return to the specific river or tributary in which they were born to spawn, the salmon did not use the Fishway.

Attention then turned to possibility of introducing adult salmon to a brand new habitat. DFO biologists embarked on a bold new plan to extract salmon from Western Arm Brook, a vibrant salmon river to the North of the Torrent via helicopter, and introduce them to an ideal spawning habitat above the Fishway. From 1972 to 1976, between 50 and 300 adult salmon were transported while the Torrent was closed to recreational anglers. By 1986 there was noticeable increase in salmon climbing the Fishway and spawning above the river. But there were still challenges. The sport fishing industry declined as a moratorium was maintained. The salmon ladder began to erode preventing many salmon from reaching the spawning area above the falls. Unfortunately, the plan was failing.

The Visionary — Wallace Maynard

Wallace Maynard, local community leader and businessman, had an inspirational idea. Despite the fall in Atlantic salmon numbers, the Torrent River still was a natural wonder and an inspirational destination for campers, nature enthusiasts and hikers. With the support of the Town and the local Development Association, construction of camp sites and a tourist chalet began. Wallace’s son Bill gave authorized tours of the salmon ladder. Over time the numbers of tourists increased. Many of whom donated funds to the Torrent River Preservation concept. And in 1989, these funds were invested in materials to rebuild the salmon ladder. Volunteers constructed a dam to divert water to the Fishway and sand bags used to plug the holes. Salmon were now able to climb to the spawning grounds. A groundswell of support bolstered permanent repair to the Fishway. In 2003, DFO allocated more than a million dollars for a new Fish ladder, as well, committed staff to properly monitor the progress of salmon passing through the Fishway.

The Mighty Torrent River

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