1.2. Waterways in Nova Scotia's History

These few pages on the history of Nova Scotia's waterways are included only to remind you of what you already know: water and fish have always been an important part of many Nova Scotia communities and cultures. Fish was a staple in the diet of the First nations communitiesand are still of great importance. In earlier times, fish were in such abundance that residents used spears for fishing. They simply walked along the river and quickly speared fish for their needs. Europeans discovered the rich off-shore fishing grounds around 1500 and fished for many years before the province was settled in the 1700's. The early settlers to Nova Scotia left behind Old World rivers that had already been over-fished. The New World, although filled with hardship, was a land of plenty. There are many early records of the abundance of fish in rivers, lakes, and the ocean.

The abundance of fish in our coastal waters has been renowned until recent years. Fishing grounds off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland are world famous and have been exploited by many countries including Canada. These great quantities of fish were once very important to the economy of Nova Scotia. For the past several years, despite declines, Canada has been the world's largest exporter of seafood products, Nova Scotia accounting for almost 26% of the total Canadian fishery exports.

As well as being important economically, inland and off-shore ecosystems have tremendous ecological significance. Many fish, birds, and other animals depend on healthy environments to survive. Because all natural ecosystems are interconnected, the general health of our environment, including human health is affected by any changes we make to natural systems.

The increasingly efficient modern equipment of today's fishing population and the growing demands of a rapidly increasing world population, have caused offshore overfishing in some areas.

When the Europeans came to North America, they found the waterways teeming with fish.
Here are some examples:

In 1800 farmers shovelled salmon out of the rivers to use for fertilizer.

Inmates in local jails complained of being fed too much salmon.

Tourists complained that the splashing of salmon made riverside areas too noisy to sleep.

Early settlers in Nova Scotia say there were so many fish you could almost walk across the water on the backs of the fish!

Many fish (eels, gasperaux, smelt, salmon, trout, striped bass, Atlantic whitefish, shad) spend some of their time in the ocean and some time in sreams and rivers. The health of rivers and oceans are closely connected. All rivers eventually flow to the sea so what is done to them as they move across the land affects the ocean.

Over fishing, by recreational fishermen, has been a leading cause of population declines of freshater fish. Brook trout, Smallmouth bass, and Atlantic salmon are the most popular freshwater game fishes in Nova Scotia. Recreational fishing started as the province was first settled, but bit-by-bit, the stocks have become seriously depleted, not only through over-fishing, but also by poor land use in the watershed.

Evidence that our waters are not as healthy as they once were is shown by the serious decline in fish populations in both rivers and oceans. This decline is largely the result of over-fishing and the destruction of critical fish habitat.

The destruction of inland habitat in the 1800's was mainly due to logging, land clearing for farms, and damming of rivers. By 1890, the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries reported that logging and damming operations had left only four out of 27 rivers in the Northumberland Strait open for salmon. The story was the same throughout the Province. The use of rivers for log and pulp driving caused much of this destruction. Rivers and streams were often widened, straightened, and their banks shored up with rocks in order to ensure that the logs moved efficiently downstream. This left the streams wider and shallower than the natural fish habitat In recent years, with the increased frequency of droughts, this habitat has become increasingly non-productive.

Coastal and off-shore marine habitats are being degraded by ocean dumping, oil spills, litter and waste disposal from ships, sewage disposal from coastal communities, port dredging and causeway building - just to give a few examples. Land-based sources of pollution account for 80% of the pollution in our developed harbours and in estuaries with rural watersheds this can be 100%. Changes in coastal estuaries have also dramatically affected the health of our oceans.

The Adopt-A-Stream program is designed to help you look at some of the destructive things we do to our waterways and to help you correct them.

In some cases, you will be trying to correct damage done over hundreds of years.

In other cases, you will be looking at problems created by our modern, chemically-dependent society. Throughout the work of the project you will be attempting to understand history, in order not to repeat its mistakes.