There are four ecologically significant watersheds within Antigonish Town & County: West River, South River, Pomquet River, and Rights River. Each watershed spans many square kilometers and encompasses the entire town as well as a majority of the County of Antigonish.
Long before the association was formed, in 1992, restoration began in the Brierly Brook River (West River Watershed) as a demonstration project for the Government of Canada and the Nova Scotia Recreational Fisheries Planning Agreement. From 1994-95, further restoration sites were completed in Brierly Brook through the cooperation between the Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans and St. Francis Xavier University. Monitoring data was collected from the Brierly Brook sites from 1992-2000 to measure the impacts the restoration techniques had on the river. Monitoring data included water temperature, acidity levels, fish species surveys, and redd surveys (counting the number of salmon nests in the streambed). Based on the monitoring results, installation of a variety of restoration structures showed to have a significant improvement of fish movement up and down Brierly Brook with a major increase of Atlantic Salmon spawning throughout the whole Brierly Brook system.
Habitat Unlimited, a local stewardship group that is not longer active, completed extensive restoration work on the James River and Brierly Brook between 1994 and 2004 which paved the way for stream restoration in Nova Scotia, demonstrating through scientific studies that digger logs could restore habitat and increase salmon populations. The Antigonish Rivers Association still maintains habitat restoration structures that Habitat Unlimited installed almost 30 years ago.
Since 2013 the Antigonish Rivers Association has been an active stewardship group and has completed restoration projects in the 4 major watersheds, addressing issues such as bank erosion and channel widening. Guided by technical support from the Nova Scotia Salmon Association’s Adopt a Stream program, ARA has completed dozens of restoration projects using well established habitat restoration techniques.
Common threats to aquatic habitats in Antigonish include riparian zone loss, land-clearing, and barriers to fish passage such as improperly installed culverts. Over the past several years many of ARA’s projects have become showcase sites for other watershed stewardship groups in Nova Scotia.