Telegraph Journal

Act to Protect Wild Atlantic Salmon

Bill Taylor, President of Atlantic Salmon Federation

Jul 20, 2019
Atlantic salmon are a charismatic species that return to our rivers after migrating to far feeding grounds. Photo Ben Carmichael
Protecting and restoring wild Atlantic salmon is one of the toughest conservation challenges of our time. They're sensitive and highly migratory, and all the threats affecting wildlife around the world seem to coalesce on salmon.

Climate change is putting pressure on the species throughout its range, habitat destruction has been devastating, and an estimated 25 metric tonnes of wild Atlantic salmon were taken by poachers in Canada last year.

In spite of these challenges, since our founding in 1948, the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) has been involved with many successful conservation projects, and unfortunately some failures. Reflecting back, a pattern emerges: when we interfere too much with nature, even with good intentions, the outcome is almost always negative.

But when we act to correct historic mistakes, address the root causes of decline and reduce human impacts, good things happen.

It is this experience that informs ASF's conservation philosophy. We stand for wild salmon and wild rivers.

For example, in this age of human-caused global warming and deforestation, our rivers have never been warmer. Last year, temperatures in the Little Southwest Miramichi exceeded 23 C for an astounding 57 days. In that kind of heat, juvenile and adult salmon are under stress and angling is closed or restricted.

Fish crowd into cold water refuges, often where brooks flow into the main river.

To address this, we have worked closely with the North Shore Micmac District Council, Anqotum Resource Management and the Miramichi Salmon Association to help secure multiyear federal funding for the enhancement of 11 cold-water refuge sites. Work will begin this year. Using engineering knowhow and natural materials to create cold-water habitat gives salmon the best chance to survive the heat and hopefully adapt in the face of a changing climate.
A grilse is released to continue its upstream migration to spawn on the Southwest Miramichi River in New Brunswick. Nathan Wilbur/ASF
If juvenile salmon can make it through the summer months, they will eventually face a lethal gauntlet of predators in the Miramichi estuary. The native striped bass population has exploded, estimated at more than 330,000 spawning adults in 2018, 10-times greater than DFO's recovery target for the species.

The question of whether bass are eating and harming salmon in significant numbers has been answered unequivocally by ASF science.

As part of the longest-running study of Atlantic salmon in the world, we discovered that fewer than three in 10 smolt leaving the Northwest Miramichi reach the Gulf of St. Lawrence in some years, a steady decline from a consistent 70 per cent survival rate a decade ago. For comparison, on other nearby study rivers which do not have spawning striped bass populations, smolt survival rates have remained constant and relatively high.

This research has contributed to the establishment of a well-managed commercial striped bass fishery lead by Eel Ground First Nation and an increase in the bag limit for recreational fishermen.

We know there's room for salmon and bass in the Miramichi River system, because they have coexisted for thousands of years. Increasing the sustainable harvest of striped bass at a time of overabundance is a minimally intrusive way of giving Mother Nature a hand to restore balance while providing economic, sustenance and recreational opportunities for residents and visitors.
Signing the historic Greenland Agreement on 24 May 2018 in Reykjavik, Iceland. From left, Bill Taylor, President ASF, Henrik Sandgreen, Chair KNAPK, Fridleifur Gudmundsson, Chair NASF Iceland, Elvar Frifriksson, NASF Iceland
Then there's Greenland, the far-away ocean feeding grounds for almost all large Atlantic salmon from North America. ASF has raised more than $2 million to support a 12-year suspension of the commercial salmon fishery there. Giving more salmon the chance to return home and spawn is the natural way of putting more eggs in the gravel. It will benefit rivers from Maine to Arctic Quebec, New Brunswick included.

The impact of the Greenland Agreement will not be felt overnight, and we are just entering the second year. Yet already we are receiving reports from people on the Gaspe Peninsula, the Restigouche, the north shore of the St. Lawrence and Newfoundland and Labrador that more large salmon have appeared this year than expected. There are also positive reports from the Miramichi.

Every day, ASF staff from Maine to Labrador work with dozens of partner organizations and more than 100 local watershed groups. Together, when we put the interests of wild salmon first, we can achieve a lot for this extraordinary species.

Bill Taylor
President and CEO of the Atlantic Salmon Federation

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