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Predators cause salmon populations in Miramichi River to hit record low

There are about 15,000 small and large Atlantic salmon in the Miramichi River

The number of adult Atlantic salmon returning to the Miramichi River has reached an “all-time low,” according to the Miramichi Salmon Association.

There are about 15,000 small and large Atlantic salmon in the Miramichi River this year, said Mark Hambrook, president of the association. That’s a significant drop from the 75,000 recorded in the river in 2011.

“I don’t know how low the numbers have to get for people to give their head a shake,” Hambrook said.

The most recent numbers are the lowest recorded since 2014, when only 12,000 salmon returned to the river.

Miramichi River salmon numbers hit record low in 2014

The Miramichi Salmon Association attributes the decline to grey seal predation in the bay, striped bass predation in the river and estuary and habitat degradation.

Reasons for dwindling numbers
Striped bass are eating a significant portion of Atlantic salmon making their way from the ocean to the river, Hambrook said.

Fifteen years ago, salmon had a 70 per cent survival rate of making it out to Miramichi Bay and into the river. But Hambrook said the survival rate has decreased to 20 per cent.

In other places, like Chaleur Bay, the survival rate of salmon making it there was 75 per cent about 15 years ago and remains the same today.

“We’d like to have the regulations so that you can keep striped bass no matter what the size, if you’re angling to remove it from the river.”

In the 1960s, there were only about 2,000 grey seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Hambrook said. The population of grey seals has since grown to between 70,000 to 100,000.

“Those numbers have to be reduced.”

In 2018, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans approved Eel Ground First Nation for a 25,000-fish commercial pilot license for striped bass.

The Miramichi Salmon Association and the Atlantic Salmon Federation have also been calling for the eradication of the invasive smallmouth bass from the area for years.

Global warming is also causing water temperatures to rise, affecting fish habitats.

“We are getting increased warming of our rivers, so we have to do what we can to make sure that those cold water sources are protected.”

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is holding the Eastern New Brunswick Recreational Fisheries Advisory Committee meeting in Moncton today to discuss the dwindling salmon population.

The meeting will include members from the department, Indigenous groups, conservationists, and representatives from the recreational fishing sector.