A special delivery, just days before Christmas, has brought smiles to the St. Mary's River Association in Sherbrooke, N.S.

Dozens of mature salmon were released into the river today to help bring the population back to past numbers.

One by one, large Atlantic salmon are taken out of loading crates and put into something called a boot.

Then the fish are carried down to the St. Mary's River, where the boot is tipped and the fish are released into the frigid water.

It's all part of the St. Mary's River Association's salmon recovery program, that began four years ago. 

“This year alone, we've put in 170,000 little fingerlings -- we do that in the spring,” said Scott Beaver of the St. Mary's River Association. “We put in another 15 adult salmon in this same location, a little earlier, late fall probably.”

The fish released Thursday were caught here back in 2016, and raised in a Department of Fisheries and Oceans facility in the Valley. So in a way, this is kind of a homecoming.

“They have a fidelity to this river,” said Beth Lenentine of DFO.“It is their birthplace,  their river of origin, and so it's important to bring them back and let them, I guess, decide whether they'll stay here over winter or some of them might head out to the ocean.”

The association has expressed concern, about what a proposed gold mine project in the area might mean for their work.

“The gold mine is just over this hill right here,” Beaver said. “Not far at all -- within a kilometre or so that way, and every body of water that comes off of that hill, Cochrane Hill, flows right back into the river.”

Proponents of the mine, Atlantic Gold, have set up a community liaison committee, and have hired a number of technicians, including environmental specialists. They believe they can work with local groups to encourage and support local eco-tourism.

The company will file its environmental impact assessment in the New Year.

Meanwhile, the association remains worried, about the impact to the river.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Dan MacIntosh.