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Voices of Water: Gary Griffin

Petitcodiac River Champion Gary Griffin talks about the river he fell in love with and fought to save

20101020 Moncton 6137 ODGriffin is a remarkable river advocate. Together, with other locals, he fought to restore the link between the river and the sea on the Petiticodiac River

Yesterday we filmed Gary Griffin, a man who for decades fought to open the gates on the causeway in Moncton that severed this tidal river’s critical link to the sea.  Three times a day for 20 years Griffin voluntarily manned a fish trap on the causeway in order to document the causeway’s effect on fish. Bottom line was, the causeway blocked fish such as salmon, gaspereau and shad from using the river. As a result, his data provided critical evidence for the argument to open the gates and restore the river’s natural flow.

Last April, the gates finally opened for real, marking a triumphant victory for its champions. Since then the life has come flooding back, propelled by the massive tides of the Inner Bay of Fundy and urged on by its well-wishers.

We visited Griffin in his house where he spoke to us about the river he fell in love with back in 1966, how it lay decimated for 42 years and how once again, it’s begun to recover. 

What changes did you witness in the river after the causeway was built?

It was just like black and white. The river was dead. It was just like: ok boys, somebody turned the lights off and it went dark. And that's when it all started for me. I couldn't figure out how it could be so good and then so bad.

The year they closed the gates I stood down at the causeway and below, it was just littered with dead salmon. The gulls had a field day! And that went on year after year after year until we had no salmon in our system at all.

You went from fishing on a healthy robust river in 1967 to fishing the trap on the causeway that strangled its flow to prove that the causeway was bad news. Tell us about that commitment. 

I remember it as a learning exercise more than anything else and as a way of proving the point. You can't argue without the data. I just fit it into my schedule. Fish the trap, fish the trap, fish the trap, and go home. I did it on my ticket for 20 years.

20 years is an awfully long time to voluntarily man a fish trap to document the demise of a river’s fish. What kept you at it? 

You gotta have something you really enjoy and then all of a sudden it's gone and you're never going see it again. I wanted the gates open, the river back the way it was.

Since the gates were opened last April the river has deepened, it’s widened and the fish have come back. What should we take away from that? 

It doesn't take long. Just give her a chance and she'll look after it. We just need to get out of the way.