Telegraph Journal - Commentary

Increased Surveillance Needed on NB Salmon Rivers During Warm Water Protocol Periods

John Pugh

Aug 20, 2019
With the warming of the climate associated with global climate change, the recent extreme summer temperatures we are experiencing in New Brunswick should come as no surprise.

This temperature increase drives the surface water temperatures of lakes and rivers into lethal ranges for many aquatic species, but none more than the iconic Atlantic salmon. During these periods of elevated water temperatures, the Atlantic salmon in the freshwater reaches of our various river systems seek refuge at the mouths of cold-water brooks, streams and in pools, where cooler groundwater re-charges into the river system.

These areas have been aptly named “cold water refuges,” as they are known locations where the salmon congregate to wait out the thermal threat that warm water poses. They will remain there until rain recharges the river with new flow – and the water temperatures moderate – allowing the salmon to disperse and continue their spawning migration.

During these periods, when salmon are forced to take up residence in the cold water refuges, they are more vulnerable due to the density of salmon crowded into a confined space. Angling during these times is not advisable as the salmon should not be subjected to stress. They are sufficiently strained due to environmental pressure and are striving to merely maintain and regulate their biological functions.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (known as DFO), in working with conservation and provincial partners, has developed a “warm water protocol.” It uses established temperature thresholds to guide angling restrictions and is initiated when the river water temperature at select monitoring points does not go below 20C for a 48-hour period.

The protocol is initiated in a stepwise manner on the Miramichi and in consultation with select conservation organization representatives. The first step in the protocol results in the closure of 27 select pools in the Miramichi drainage, which have been identified as cold water refuges.

It goes on to indicate that when the water temperature exceeds 23 C for a 48-hour period, angling in all areas of the Miramichi will be restricted to the hours between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m.

These closures represent a time when Atlantic salmon are most vulnerable. The very environment they live in presents a thermal threat: They are forced into areas with limited habitat; shallow water makes them visible to predators; and most of all, there are no law-abiding anglers to provide eyes and ears to dissuade poaching by various means.

The only deterrents to the poacher are federal and provincial enforcement agencies, and to say enforcement resources are sparse would be an understatement. This is not a criticism of the wildlife enforcement agencies or the work they do, it is simply a result of successive government cutbacks in an attempt to meet fiscal demands.

Wildlife enforcement at both levels of government work hard to patrol the rivers But there is just too much river and not enough officers to provide the level of protection required during these times of heightened vulnerability.

Both DFO and the provincial government must recognize the need to increase surveillance as the step stages of the warm water protocol are implemented and angler oversight on the rivers decreases. The public is encouraged to report any illegal activities they observe to conservation offices.

Perhaps it is time for both levels of government to explore the implementation of a guardian program, which would complement the efforts of enforcement and ensure the proper level of protection is afforded to aquatic wildlife when they are most vulnerable.

John Pugh
is president of the New Brunswick Salmon Council.

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