Don't Bet On Salmon Catch-and-Keep Anytime Soon

Telegraph-Journal & The Daily Gleaner

Jan. 8, 2018

John Chilibeck

Ottawa and a number of local partners are working on a new management system for salmon angling on the Miramichi River, but it doesn't necessarily mean sportsmen will be able to catch and keep the fighting fish this upcoming season.

If anything, says a conservation group, it will set the bar higher for the preservation of the heralded species.

"The previous management model was science-based but there was confusion over what the conservation limit really meant," said

Robert Otto, an official with the Atlantic Salmon Federation, in an interview. "Some people thought that once you hit the conservation

level, then the sun was shining and everything was great. But hitting the conservation level is like seeing the gas warning light in your car. You put just enough gas in it to put the light out, is that really the time to go out for a long drive?"

Otto belongs to a new working group the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans set up to suggest proposed models that take a more precautionary approach.

Up until now, DFO has used a minimum conservation limit to determine if anglers should be allowed to retain grilse and has applied its rules to all rivers in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, which include the famed runs on the Restigouche and Miramichi in northern New Brunswick, long a draw for anglers the world over.

Otto said the new system the working group is proposing would include an upper limit salmon runs would have to hit for retention angling to be allowed.

For three years in a row, anglers have been forced to put back any salmon they catch - including grilse - in all rivers in the southern gulf after Ottawa imposed new rules meant to conserve dwindling runs.

The move was deeply unpopular among New Brunswickers who consider putting a wild salmon on the table a special part of life.

It was also met with derision by groups who argue the focus should not be on stopping an angler from keeping one or two grilse, but on the First Nations communities that take larger, egg-laden female salmon, crucial for the spawning beds. The indigenous communities, however, say they have a right to harvest salmon for food and ceremonial purposes and have the backing of Canadian courts.

Tom Petticrew, the chairman of the Coalition for Better Atlantic Salmon Management in New Brunswick, says there's no reason Ottawa couldn't quickly authorize a limited catch and retain angling season, a move he said would actually help conserve salmon.

The coalition shared its proposal with DFO at a meeting in Moncton on Dec. 4: offer anglers two tags for catching and retaining grilse on the Restigouche system, three on the Southwest Miramichi, one on the Northwest Miramichi and two on all other New Brunswick rivers open to salmon angling.

Petticrew said in an interview Sunday such a limited allocation would encourage river stewardship and help stop poaching.

To prove his point, he referenced government statistics that show resident licence sales for salmon angling plummeted by almost half in 2015 - the first year of the retention ban - from 16,486 to 9,240.

"People aren't participating in the sport as much any more, and the eyes and ears aren't on the rivers," he said. "When people stop caring about the rivers, there won't be peer pressure on their neighbours who might be inclined to go out and do as their granddads did, and fill a couple of barrels of fish for the winter."

Dominic LeBlanc, the federal minister of fisheries, has said in previous interviews he hopes to move to a river-by-river management model that would be similar to what's in Quebec.

Unlike in New Brunswick, where anglers have been banned from keeping large salmon for three decades and the smaller ones for the past three years, Quebec allows a limited harvest of both large salmon and grilse on certain runs deemed healthy enough.

LeBlanc couldn't be reached for an interview Sunday, but Otto said the government wouldn't have enough time to put in place a river-by-river management system for the entire region right away, arguing it would require far more detailed study. At best, he said, the government could put in place the pilot project on the Miramichi this season, which begins mid-April.

Petticrew disagrees.

"DFO has had three years to figure out how to do river-by-river management. It's time to start on this for 2018."