Miramichi Leader

Salmon harvests across Canada reach all-time low: report

Nathan DeLong

Jun 6, 2019
Fewer wild Atlantic salmon being reeled in across Canada last year than there were previously should bode well for reversing declines in the species, a salmon conservation group says.

Numbers released by the Atlantic Salmon Federation May 30 in its 2019 State of the Populations report suggest the reported Canadian salmon harvest hit an all-time low of 89.5 metric tons, or 36,185 fish, in 2018.

While the St. Andrews-based federation hoped more salmon would return to their native rivers to spawn last year, spokesman Neville Crabbe said, officials are optimistic about fewer fish being retained.

"Everyone is buying in to the reality that the future is in our hands," Crabbe said Tuesday afternoon.

"The decisions we make around land use, harvest levels and fisheries bycatch will make a big difference in the next decade."

The federation's report is composed of data from the Canadian and United States governments, along with information published by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea – an intergovernmental science organization.

The total 2018 Canadian catch included 8,420 large salmon and 27,765 small salmon, or grilse.

There was approximately 24.4 metric tons of unreported catch last year, the federation said, mostly due to poaching.

Crabbe said the harvest hasn't been lower since 1972 – when salmon catch records were first kept.

"When you boil it down and look at things regionally, it's as it has been for years now," he said. "There's a high variability among rivers and regions."

Forty-one per cent of salmon reeled in across the nation last year were caught in rivers, with 51 per cent coming from tidal estuaries and eight per cent being netted in coastal waters.

The federation's report said the percentage of salmon hooked in estuaries likely resulted from fewer recreational catches in Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Retention was permitted for recreational anglers in Quebec and Newfoundland, but Fisheries and Oceans Canada – or DFO – has imposed strict catch-and-release rules on all Maritime salmon rivers in recent years.

The retention fisheries accounted for an estimated 34.7 metric tons, or 39 per cent of the overall Canadian catch.

Indigenous food, social and ceremonial salmon harvests took place in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Labrador, comprising an estimated 53.4 metric tons or 60 per cent of the nation-wide harvest.

"Generally, that split [between Indigenous and recreational anglers] is split more evenly," said Crabbe.

"The Indigenous harvest went down by more than 10 tons from 2017 to 2018. The [harvest] numbers we saw last year are definitely encouraging,"

In the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, roughly 33,100 large salmon came back to their native rivers last year to spawn, good for a 16 per cent jump over 2017 returns.

Small salmon – or grilse – fell to an estimated 19,100 in the southern Gulf in 2018, the third-lowest count on record and a 20 per cent decline from two years ago.

There were reportedly 27,200 salmon that plied the Miramichi River system last year, with 20,600 small and large fish swimming in the Southwest Miramichi River.

The Northwest Miramichi River, meanwhile, saw salmon return numbers hover around 6,600 in 2018.

Further north, in the Restigouche River watershed, there were an estimated 5,159 large salmon and 3,158 small salmon in 2018 – a 32 per cent decline in big fish and a 28 per cent increase in grilse.

"Populations are at a serious risk of not being able to sustain themselves," said Crabbe. "Salmon removals should be kept to as low of a level as possible."

Across North America, returns of small salmon – or grilse – rebounded last year. There were an estimated 581,000 grilse across North America, the third-highest in 48 years and 29 per cent about 2017 estimates.

Returns of large salmon, which include multi-sea-winter salmon and fish that have already spawned, was estimated at 131,000 in 2018 across the continent. That's down 24 per cent from 161,500 two years ago and 173,900 in 2016.

More Posts