It looks like another bad year for the wild Atlantic salmon in Eastern Canada, prompting new calls for tougher conservation measures as the king of the sport fish fights for survival.
Bill Taylor, president of the Atlantic Salmon Federation in St. Andrews, said Friday the conservation organization is appealing to all anglers in Quebec and Atlantic Canada to release the fish they catch and not kill any.
Taylor said that last year, anglers killed about 40,000 salmon, roughly 3,000 large salmon and about 36,000 of the smaller fish called grilse. They released many more fish – about 60,000 – but he said the rivers need every salmon available to complete the spawning cycle and replenish dwindling numbers.
“We have to do our part,” Taylor said, adding that sport fishermen can lead by example.
“I know there are some anglers who will say, ‘I like to take home one or two grilse.’ I understand that. In an ideal world, if our rivers were healthy, there would be enough fish to have a well-managed, modest harvest be it anglers, or First Nations, or what have you. But this just isn’t the year.”
The final numbers are not yet in and there remains a slim hope that the returning salmon are just unusually slow this year, delayed by the late start to spring.
But Mark Hambro ok of the Miramichi Salmon Association said hope is starting to fade since there should be more fish in the river by now.
“The runs are way down this year,” Hambrook said in an interview from Miramichi.
“We don’t have real good indicators because (post-tropical storm) Arthur came through and washed out the counting facilities … But from talking to anglers, there are not a lot of fish around.”
Regulations governing and release vary widely in Eastern Canada. In Quebec, anglers are allowed to kill large spawners. In Atlantic Canada, anglers have to release all of the large salmon but, depending on the province and river, they can keep as many as six grilse per season.
The Quebec salmon federation is calling on its provincial government to implement mandatory live release of all Atlantic salmon over 63 centimetres – the large fish – due to low numbers.
The Atlantic Salmon Federation is going a step beyond that, urging anglers throughout Eastern Canada to release all the salmon they catch, whether large or small.
“Returns this year are alarming,” Taylor said.“The last couple of years were not great but this year it looks like returns are quite concerning – very low and it is widespread … The numbers are down and in some cases, significantly so.”
Taylor said he is pleased to see some First Nations communities responding to the plight of the salmon by changing their fishing habits.
Metepenagiag First Nation on the northwest Miramichi has moved from gill netting to trap fishing which allows the First Nations fishermen to release spawners.
One large female salmon can carry as many as 7,500 eggs.
But not all First Nations are following Metepenagiag’s example and in other parts of Canada and the North Atlantic, wild salmon fisheries are in full swing.
Greenland’s commercial salmon harvest rose to 47 tonnes in 2013, encouraged by growing sales to factories. Taylor said that was the largest Greenland harvest since 1997, and 82 per cent of the salmon taken originated in North America – mostly Eastern Canada.
In addition, a fishery at St. Pierre and Miquelon, a territory of France, intercepted 5.3 tonnes of salmon in 2013 as the fish attempted to migrate to their home rivers in the Gaspe, Atlantic Canada and Quebec. It was the largest harvest since reporting began in 1970.
In Labrador, First Nations fisheries were given a salmon harvest allotment of 22 tonnes last year by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, but actually took 37.5 tonnes.
“So we have the angler harvest; the First Nations harvest; the Labrador harvest; the St. Pierre and Miquelon harvest; and the Greenland harvest – if we stopped killing fish we would be in pretty good shape pretty quickly,” Taylor said.
Hambrook said the low number of grilse returning to the Miramichi is especially concerning, with fewer than 12,000 coming back to their home river last year.
He said the Greenland fishery can’t be blamed since the grilse don’t swim that far.
“We don’t know what is causing their demise,” Hambrook said.
“There is something in our own Canadian waters that we have to find the answer to. I think it is more of an environmental, global warming issue – something the changing climate is influencing … There are many scenarios and it seems to be happening in our own coastal waters.”
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