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Voices of Water: Marco Morency

Marco Morency, Petitcodiac Riverkeeper, tells us about Canada's most exciting river restoration project in Moncton, New Brunswick

20101018 Moncton 6589 OD© Blue Legacy/Oscar Durand

Marco Morency is the front man for one of Canada’s most heartening stories of environmental redemption, having inherited a remarkable victory thanks to the work of his dogged predecessors. In 1967 a causeway was built across the Petitcodiac River just upstream from the city of Moncton, New Brunswick, severing its connection to the frothy and rambunctious tidal flows of the Bay of Fundy. The fish ladder installed in the causeway didn’t do its job. As a result, fish diversity plummeted and the river filled in fast from sediment below the causeway.

Last April, for the first time in decades, the gates on the 0.6-mile long causeway were opened, marking a giddy victory for local environment and water advocates. Over the summer, fish have flocked to the river as it is reclaims its breadth, fueled by the powerful tidal bore that drives 16 miles up its length. 

So how would you sum up the Petitcodiac River’s success story?

In one sentence: it’s like in 2003 it was declared the most endangered river in Canada and maybe in the next 10 years we can say that it's the healthiest river in Canada.

Tell us happened has happened since the gates opened last April? Their opening is only 130 feet wide and yet the river is fast reclaiming its land.

It’s amazing. We know that the river’s been deepening and widening very much. The river’s close to doubling its width. The gates were open April 14th and nobody expected it to be that fast. People walking the river saw changes on a daily basis.

The fish have been able to migrate. In one day we caught 40,000 gaspareau. Overall in their migration period we’ve caught 140,000 of them. One day we caught a seal in our fish trap and that’s 16 miles upstream from the causeway. It’s just proved that this is a tidal river and the marine wildlife needs to go across this causeway. We’ve seen harbor porpoise right up downtown Moncton.

I understand that sturgeon have returned to the river too and that you caught them in your fish monitoring station upstream of the causeway.

It’s almost like a love story. Sturgeons are the biggest fish that we have in the system. They can live up to a hundred years and the one we’ve seen are about seven feet long. And seven feet mean that that they’re approximately 50 years old. So those are fish that were probably born in the river upstream of the causeway. As they were growing, they moved to the saltwater down into Shepody Bay and the Bay of Fundy and waited 42 years to come back and spawn in their native rivers. 

So they’ve waited 42 years, probably trying every year to go across the causeway and now we’ve seen them this summer going across to spawn in their native river. So it is amazing to see the wildlife gaining its space back. 

When did you first fall for the river?

I was in love with the Petitcodiac even before the saw it. It was so amazing for me to see a river affected by tide. So I really fell in love with it. When I learned that this river was endangered that's what got me in the environmental movement first, back in ‘95.

I feel blessed to be working for the river and to see it come back to life. This summer, you felt this really positive energy and stars in peoples’ eyes when they were talking about the river.