October 31, 2017
As reported by Connell Smith of CBC New Brunswick, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has denied the Collaboration for Atlantic Salmon Tomorrow (CAST) a permit to release hatchery raised adult fish into the Miramichi River. The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) supports DFO’s decision.
ASF was a member of CAST from its inception in the fall of 2014 until January 2017. At that time, President Bill Taylor informed the remaining CAST partners, ACOA, the Government of New Brunswick, and DFO of our reasons for leaving.
CAST is comprised of four projects: using sonar to get more accurate population counts, thermal imaging of the river to map salmon habitat, population modelling for more accurate predictions, and finally, a smolt-adult-supplementation program to stock adult fish into the river.
ASF fully supports three of four components, but could no longer continue as a CAST partner because of the approach being taken with smolt-adult-supplementation. ASF’s position from the beginning of CAST was that an unbiased, third-party, expert peer review was needed to determine the merits of smolt-adult-supplementation in the Miramichi. To our knowledge no such review has taken place .
In December of 2015 DFO convened members of the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat, a body that provides advice to fisheries managers in Canada, to conduct a preliminary review of smolt-adult-supplementation as an enhancement strategy. The results were published in April 2016.
They include a finding that smolt-adult-supplementation is not well understood, and may introduce genetic risks to the wild population like traditional stocking programs. Any benefits from adding more hatchery reared adults “may be offset by the expectation that mean fitness of the captive reared progeny will be reduced relative to wild fish” the report found.
Subsequently, in June 2016, DFO’s Forward Plan for Atlantic Salmon made a clear statement regarding the CAST smolt-adult-supplementation program: “The Department considers that a detailed scientific analysis of the risk to wild populations of various enhancement activities is required to support management decisions to permit such activities.”
Before any decision is made on whether to proceed, a thorough, independent analysis conducted by outside experts is needed and must include the knowledge and perspectives of First Nations. Any review should consider not just the pros and cons of smolt adult supplementation, but also address the specific question of whether the Miramichi is an appropriate place for such a large experiment.