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RiverNotes – April 9, 2020

Compiled by Tom Moffatt

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Ice was running April 7 on the Nashwaak River, a major tributary of the St. John in New Brunswick. Photo Nathan Wilbur/ASF
The window for Atlantic salmon research, restoration, and angling is opening in the south and moving north. Timing is critical to catch and tag smolt, plant eggs in the gravel, or fish for kelts.

Provinces and states are taking different approaches to angling, from Nova Scotia where the message to “stay the blazes home” has delayed the start of the season, to Maine, where Governor Janet Mills opened up waters early and waived the need for a license saying, “As an avid angler, I know there’s nothing better for the heart and soul than a little fishing.”

Meanwhile, ASF, DFO, and everyone working on wild Atlantic salmon research and restoration are wrestling with field work protocols in the face of COVID-19. Tough decisions are being made every day and uncertainty is high.


Kris Hunter, ASF Regional Program Director for N.S. and P.E.I. reports:

“The Nova Scotia government has clarified its decision to delay the start of the provincial angling season to at least May 1st. It is part of Premier Stephen McNeil’s direction to ‘stay the blazes home’ during the current state of emergency. Citizens have been ordered to curtail public interaction as much as possible, including all non-essential travel outside of the home. In Nova Scotia this extends to angling.

“DFO, in an official communication, says that they have made the necessary regulatory changes to delay the opening of the 2020 angling season as requested by the Province of Nova Scotia in support of the state of emergency.

“Like last week, the P.E.I. government has yet to release its position on the angling season and whether it will open as usual on April 15th. Officials there are studying what’s happening elsewhere and consulting with public health authorities.

“I’ve had a chance to speak with anglers in both provinces about how they are taking the news and dealing with the uncertainty of the 2020 angling season. There’s a wide range of thought out there, from silver linings to worries about suffering business. More on that in the coming days.”

“Around my home in Antigonish there are several salmon rivers within walking distance. I’ve been watching conditions and this week, rain and warm temperatures started the snow melt. The rivers are starting to swell and we are seeing the beginnings of the spring floods. I’m not yet seeing trout congregating in the pools, which is typical for this time of year around Antigonish.”

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This image from September 2019 shows the pool at Frenchman's Run in the West River which flows through the community of Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Photo ASF/Kris Hunter


Charles Cusson, ASF’s Regional Program Director for Quebec reports:

“Pierre Dufour, minister responsible for Forests, Wildlife and Parks declared last weekend that fishing seasons would start as per their usual date, but subject to travel restrictions in effect since April 1st. A full update on the situation has been promised on May 4th. In the meantime, ice is starting to break up on some rivers, and we await the arrival of the 2020 cohort of salmon and grilse.”

«La fin de semaine dernière, Pierre Dufour ministre du MFFP (Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs) a déclaré que les saisons de pêche vont débuter tel que prévu, mais assujettie aux restrictions de déplacement interrégionales mise en vigueur depuis le 1er avril dernier.Il y aura une mise à jour de la situation le 4 mai prochain. Entre temps, les rivières commenceront tranquillement leur métamorphose printanière en anticipation de l’arrivée de la cohorte des grands saumons et madeleineaux de la saison 2020.»


Nathan Wilbur, ASF’s Regional Program Director for New Brunswick report:

“We still don’t have word on what’s happening with the angling season in this province, but may learn more this evening (April 9), when Oscar Leblanc, @maritimeangler on Facebook, does a live chat with Minister of Natural Resources and Energy Development Mike Holland at 7:00 p.m. You can tune in here.

“Ice is moving now in the Saint John River system and on the Miramichi people can keep an eye on conditions through the Miramichi Salmon Association’s webcam at Bullock’s Lodge near Boiestown.”

Also, check out Nathan’s blog we just posted on cold-water enhancement and pushing for protected forests in the Miramichi watershed. 


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This chart from Environment Canada shows ice conditions off northern Newfoundland are not as severe as they have been in recent years, usually a good sign for salmon according to Don Ivany.
Don Ivany, ASF’s Regional Program Director for Newfoundland and Labrador writes:

“Anglers are still feeling uneasy on whether the season will commence on June 1, as it would in normal years, but if it does these are some signs we may be in for a good salmon year.

“The snow is still so deep that people are snowmobiling everywhere on the island and may be doing so until the end of April. It means that in May and early June there should be excellent river levels for smolt going out and salmon coming in.

“Also, there is less ice this year off the coast, and it seems Atlantic salmon return in greater numbers under such conditions.”

In late March, DFO scientists in Newfoundland and Labrador published their latest updated preliminary Atlantic salmon stock assessment. The document can be viewed and downloaded here. 


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ASF research technician Mike Best searches for a route around an ice build-up in Miramichi Bay. Atlantic salmon research activities have to start in the early spring to catch the sea-bound migration of smolt and kelt - adults that spawn and spend the winter under river ice. Photo ASF
Jonathan Carr, ASF’s Vice President of Research and Environment writes:

“At this point we’re not sure what our season is going to look like. It’s critical that we ensure the health and safety of our employees and volunteers, and with that in mind we have reviewed several options to maintain physical separation, but nothing is perfect. Field work often means working closely side-by-side.

“All of our major projects are partnerships, which in normal times work excellent, but with restrictions in place on movement and gatherings, partners adds another layer of complexity. DFO just suspended all field activity from now until at least the end of the month.

“We’ve prepared ourselves and are ready to move when we can, but some elements of our research program are already out of the question. For example, with non-essential interprovincial travel suspended, our team from N.B. will not be able to enter Quebec and carry out our planned kelt tagging activities on the Cascapedia River this year, hopefully we can make it to the Cascapedia to carry out our planned smolt tagging work in mid-June.

“Smolt tagging in the Restigouche and Miramichi rivers doesn’t typically begin until the second week of May, so we will cross our fingers and keep looking for safe ways to get out and get our work done. We will share detailed updates as decisions are made.”

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Stocking parr in small streams is part of the Downeast Salmon Federation's efforts to restore salmon runs in Maine. Photo DSF
Dwayne Shaw, executive director of the Downeast Salmon Federation told us this week, “like everyone else, we are trying to feel our way forward. In the Pleasant River we have released 110,000 unfed fry from streamside incubators, which is a step forward,” but “the deployment of a smolt wheels and smolt trapping are probably not going to happen this year. Too many people are needed and the rules don’t allow that.”

Shaw says there will likely be some habitat work going ahead, and DSF is proceeding with their East Machias parr project. Right now about 180,000 eggs are being incubated for that river.


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A view on 6 April, 2020 of the Sheepscot River where subtle log structures built last fall appear to have come through the winter intact. Photo Jen Noll/Maine DMR
Maranda Nemeth, ASF’s Maine Headwaters Project Manager says that work by the state’s Department of Marine Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the Sheepscot River has survived the spring freshet.

Over the last three years the agencies have been installing what are called post assisted log structures known as PALS. They’re meant to increase habitat complexity and have resulted in increased salmon parr abundance, a great compliment to ASF’s dam removal projects on the Sheepscot.

Jen Noll 
of Maine’s Department of Marine Resources checked the structures on April 6th and reports:

“It looks like all of the structures remained in place this winter, not really a surprise since there was minimal ice coverage this year.”

“Some changes are occurring such as substrate moving around structures that are creating high velocities and the water is cutting some banks around the structures.

“Also observed at least four trees that have fallen and caught in the sites which create more wood additions without all the work. I’m looking forward to visiting again during lower flows this season.”

On the Narraguagus River, Scott Craig from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that similar log structures survived ice out and are in good condition as well.