For a decade, Dan Cain has been growing frustrated with declining Atlantic salmon populations in the Miramichi River watershed and what he calls inaction on the part of the federal government.
The angler and businessman, who owns a summer home inPorter Cove on the Southwest Miramichi River.said he doesn’t see any other option now but to sue Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). He is preparing to launch a class action lawsuit against the department calling for a formal plan to save the species and compensation for any landowner, angler or business along the river claiming damages.
“Losing the use of a resource is considered damages in my opinion,” said Cain,who lives in Fredericton.
“I don’t want to spend money on suing DFO, but I don’t see any other way to get DFO to act.”
Cain launched a website and Facebook page April 27 called Save Our Salmon to generate interest in litigation against DFO. He also created an online petition for the cause that had received more than 900 signatures as of May 21. In January,the Leader reported that adult returns to the river dropped by nearly two-thirds last year; falling to 6,300.
The Southwest Miramichi River saw 5,200 adults return to spawn, while 1,100 large salmon came back to the Northwest Miramicbi River. That’s down from 14,700 in the Southwest and 3,900 adults in the Northwest in 2018, or a total of 18,600.
Cain began considering legal action against the federal department a number of years ago, but felt optimistic about a 2015 study on ways to save wild Atlantic salmon. He said the report had 61 recommendations for areas including habitat improvements and restoration, better land use practices,restocking initiatives, law enforcement, monitoring for poaching, and education programs.
When asked about the possibility of litigation, and to respond to Cain’s allegations, DFO spokesperson Krista Petersen provided an emailed statement.
“Fisheries and Oceans Canada is committed to the protection of Canada’s wild Atlantic salmon and to the recovery of this species; she wrote.
“Protecting species at risk is a shared responsibility of all Canadians; DFO is investing in science and engaging with Indigenous communities, provinces, stakeholders and industry on actions to protect and recover wild Atlantic salmon populations.
“These actions include efforts to address key threats to Atlantic salmon and other species such as habitat degradation or loss, waterflow alteration,aquatic invasive species, over exploitation of fish and pollution.”
Cain, however, is not satisfied with the current situation. He also described the smolt-to-adult supplementation program proposed by the Collaboration for Atlantic Salmon Tomorrow (CAST) as a ray of hope, but the group’s bid to release thousands of hatchery-raised fish back into the wildwas rejected by DFO in2019, for the third year in a row.
Adult salmon returns hitting an alltime low of 6,300 and invasive smallmouth bass escaping Miramichi Lake and reaching the Southwest Miramichi last year made litigation a priority, Cain said.
Not acting sooner after discovering smallmouths were introduced to the lake in 2008 was “gross negligence”on the department’s part, Cain said.
“That inaction and the inability for DFO to act when they didn’t achieve their previous goal of eradication with electrofishing [in the lake] in two or three years prompted me to decide enough is enough,” he said.”It’s time to try and hold DFO accountable for the mismanagement of the river system.”
Cain said he’s currently awaiting more legal opinions, but hopes to begin the class-action process in early June.
He said he hopes the courts will order DFO to develop a plan to better manage salmon and all fish species in the Miramichi and compensate individuals and businesses deemed to have suffered damages.
“We can’t let the populations go any lower,” said Cain.”In another few years, there won’t be any salmon.”
Keith Wilson, a fourth-generation outfitter and owner of Wilson’s Sporting Camps in McNamee, said he plans to participate in the suit. He said his business, the recreational salmon fishery,and outfitting and guiding have suffered in recent years with fewer salmon the river and, in tum, fewer people coming to catch them.
Wilson said DFO and some conservationists have long advocated for hookand-release angling as a primary way to protect salmon, but that doesn’t address at-sea mortality, climate change, deforestation and other issues affecting the species.
“A class-action lawsuit would force DFO to answer some tough questions in a court of law about why they’re making the decisions they’re making,” he said. “This is life or death for the species right now. We need to take action.”