An Evaluation of the Reintroduction of Atlantic Salmon to Lake Ontario and its Tributaries
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As the field of restoration continues to develop, it is important that initiatives are evaluated for their effectiveness and to explore the motivations and justifications behind the projects‘ designs. Current restoration ecology seeks to orient projects toward the future instead of rooting them in the past. By focusing on ecosystem function rather than specific species composition, the needs of the current ecosystem are better able to be addressed. The dynamic and complex nature of ecosystems means restoration ecologists must have a firm understanding of current conditions and design several trajectories for restoration projects. Not all current restoration projects adhere to this more recent framework, and many fall short of achieving goals set by international organizations, such as the Society for Ecological Restoration. The Atlantic Salmon Reintroduction Program for Lake Ontario began in 2006 with the goal of establishing a self sustaining Atlantic salmon population in Lake Ontario. Over 30 organizations have joined together to implement this program which involves fish production, habitat restoration, monitoring and assessment as well as education and outreach. Though some success has been achieved through habitat projects and observation of some returning adults, the future of the project is still being evaluated. By reviewing relevant literature and conducting interviews with key partners, the program was evaluated for its adherence to restoration principles and the following areas were used to evaluate its success. These broad themes included: (1) the biological interactions of these fish with their surroundings; (2) the history of the ecosystem; (3) the influence of humans on the restoration process; (4) the value laden aspect of the iv process; and (5) the extent of a ―systems‖ approach. The justification for this program appears to be based more on culture, aesthetic and economic value than sound ecological science but, as all respondents agreed, the ability of Lake Ontario to support a healthy, self-sustaining population of Atlantic salmon would be a good indicator of overall ecosystem health at least in terms of water quality and quantity. Despite this potential achievement, reintroducing a single extirpated species while focusing solely on its habitat and survival, fails to address the multitude of concerns within the Lake Ontario watershed. Consequently this reintroduction limits the potential for restoration of the Lake and is far less efficient and effective than had other opportunities been pursued.