Riverside Heights fish habitat flourishing in SNC hands

Visitors to the Port of Johnstown Embayment project in Riverside Heights will quickly discover the habitat creation initiative has helped more than just the local fish species.
Representatives from South Nation Conservation offered tours of the channels Wednesday, August 24, showcasing the growth that has taken place in little more than a year. Amongst those taking a turn through the maze of channels were Municipality of South Dundas mayor Evonne Delegarde and councillor Archie Mellan.
“The embayment boat tour was truly informative and enlightening,” Mellan said. “The work that South Nation did in overseeing this fish embayment project for the port expansion is a true testament to the expertise of (SNC’s) staff. It will serve well for many years in conservation and protecting our water and fish habitat for future generations.”
The site, which is located south of the County Roads 2 and 8 intersection in South Dundas, is monitored regularly by SNC, including a boat excursion twice a year to determine what species are making their home in the St. Lawrence River waters. Senior fish habitat assessment biologist Amie Ivany said they use a boat electrofisher to catch the fish, as this ensures a much lower mortality rate compared to other forms of catch and release.
“We’re seeing that things are staying here, growing,” Ivany said. “The site is stable and doing very well. This is the first year we’ve seen all these aquatic plants. The water quality has been really good. There’s lots of oxygen in the water.”
To date, the SNC team has identified 20 different species of fish living in the area, including smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, longnose gar, walleye, yellow perch, northern pike, brown bullhead, white sucker, bowfin, and common carp.
Local residents and visitors to the area, which is owned by the St. Lawrence Parks Commission, are encouraged to fish the 22,000 metres-squared of new fish habitat. The area is open to small motorized boats, as well as canoes and kayaks. Those who do fish the area are also encouraged to contact SNC to update them on the species they are catching or seeing. Testing the waters for only one day, twice a year provides a good amount of data, Ivany said, but it is by no means complete.
Ivany also noted that new fish were not added to habitat, but rather the habitat was created to give fish species already in existence in the St. Lawrence River a place to flourish.
Fish is not all you will find at the Port of Johnstown’s embayment project.
Blue herons, osprey and waterfowl of all kinds, frogs, dragonflies, and a resident beaver are also among the many inhabitants. In fact, Ivany said the channels were designed to encourage waterfowl to the area. The maze-like structure allows those on one side of a curtain of cattails to be completely oblivious to anything on the other side, ensuring a greater chance of harmonious living for nesting birds.
The design team also went out of its way to ensure the conservation of several trees among the channels, where birds and other wildlife make their homes.
The $400,000 construction project allowed Dalcon Enterprises Inc. to excavate the area to SNC’s design specifications and to stay within this budget, the team used the land on the east side of the project as a dumping area. To replenish the roughly 300 trees that were removed from the land, Ivany said SNC planted another 3,000 this past spring. At this point, the team is seeing a 96 per cent survival rate among the seedlings, she added.
In addition to a fish habitat project, Ivany said it looks like they are also contributing to a forestry project, adding that there are species-at-risk birds living in the area. From the beginning, SNC has been focused on keeping as many unique features as possible and creating a habitat for all species, she said.
The Port of Johnstown group is very committed to seeing this habitat project be successful, Ivany said, which is nice for the SNC staff who have been hired to oversee the initiative.
The Port of Johnstown’s Wharf Expansion Project began in 2009 and the embayment project is a requirement of the Fisheries Act authorization. The Riverside Heights area was chosen because its topography was ideal for the project, Ivany said.
“It was very enjoyable touring by boat through the channels of the newly created and well designed fish habitat and tree planting area,” Delegarde said. “This project is a win for all partners due to the collaboration between the SNC, St. Lawrence Parks Commission, and the Port of Johnstown. A very suitable location and in close proximity to the port.”

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