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Decimation of Atlantic Salmon Spawning Grounds

Inquiry—Debate Adjourned

Hon. David Richards rose pursuant to notice of October 2, 2018:

That he will call the attention of the Senate to the decimation of Atlantic salmon spawning grounds on the Miramichi, Restigouche and their tributaries.

He said: Honourable senators, I am going to talk about my river for a bit. What we call fish on a river, which is salmon — we call trout, trout; we call mackerel, mackerel, but when we talk about fish, we talk about salmon.

I’m going to read a little bit about it here. I cannot overemphasize the crisis our Atlantic salmon are in and how, if something is not done immediately to address the situation, an entire species’ way of life, hundreds of jobs and over $40 million a year will be lost on the salmon river systems of the East Coast, in particular the Miramichi, Restigouche and the tributaries that feed them. The decline in the last few years is not only alarming, it is staggering. The population of breeding stalk has reduced most significantly on the northwest and southwest Miramichi regions of New Brunswick, but all rivers are suffering.

There are things we have attempted to do to alleviate this. Recently, we were able to secure a 12-year moratorium from the Greenland fishery. We have halted the taking of salmon by anglers, stressing only hook and release. We have used fish hatcheries to release smolt into the river systems, hoping for survival rates to increase.

But the salmon in our river systems are now up against an unrelenting and voracious predator — a predator protected by our own fisheries department and coddled over the years until its numbers so increased it not only competes with our salmon, it annihilates them. I am speaking of the striped sea bass, whose spawning grounds are unfortunately on the northwest Miramichi as well. Protected for years, they are now a plague upon us. Little action has been taken. And the concern we have shown is met with complete silence.

This is at least in part a man-made problem, the engineering of a species in order to re-establish bass numbers along the Northumberland Strait and St. Lawrence Seaway, with a complete disregard to what this voracious predator is now doing to salmon stock. This hauling the wool over the eyes of the DFO has never been new, but never has it been more cynically dismissive.

This might not seem very severe to urban Canadians, but this is every bit as devastating to our Atlantic salmon, to a whole way of life and a people’s identity, as clear-cutting and global warming.

There are now close to a million bass coming into our Miramichi waters. This puts our yearly smolt generation — young salmon backing out into the sea, sorely needed to keep our salmon river alive — in desperate peril of never reaching open water. Salmon guides and outfitters are saying this is also happening on the great Restigouche and its tributaries.

The Minister of Fisheries must become more engaged. The Department of Fisheries must allow a culling of the bass by anglers, and the First Nations of Red Bank and Eel Ground must be allowed to harvest bass for commercial enterprise. That might be a start, but it has to start now, not in three or four years’ time.

Honourable senators, the very word “Miramichi” is synonymous with Atlantic salmon. It is the centre of the Atlantic salmon world, its spawning beds and its historical breeding water. It is part of the very DNA of our river and our lives. In losing the Atlantic salmon, we lose not only monetarily but spiritually. This is a momentous moment for an entire people and a way of life.

Whatever can be done must be done. I cannot stress my concern deeply enough. It is too deep to measure.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Hon. Percy Mockler: Your Honour, I wonder if the honourable senator would accept a question.

First, I would like to take this opportunity to commend Senator Richards. Senator, I congratulate you on initiating this inquiry.

This inquiry is about our heritage and culture. We are the salmon people of the world, the Miramichi and the Restigouche rivers. Like you said, it is over $40 million on revenue for our people.

When I look at what you are embarking upon, we should all be proud of standing up to this particular disaster that’s facing New Brunswick. When I speak about a disaster, I mean our economy is going to collapse.

I wanted to share this before I asked the question to you, sir. We must intervene now in order to stop and reverse the downward spiral of what’s happening to two of the most beautiful rivers in the world. When we talk about salmon, we talk about the Restigouche and the Miramichi.

My question to you, sir: What are the guides and the outfitters saying about the condition of the salmon in those two rivers? I know that you have met with them, and you’ve done some round tables with them. What are they telling us? What are they telling the government?

Senator Richards: Thank you, senator. I’ve not only met and talked with them, I’ve fished with them my whole life. My uncle was a salmon guide on the Matapedia and Restigouche, and he guided people like Jimmy Carter and Mr. Hearst in the 1940s.

Our salmon river is a spiritual embodiment of who we are as people, not only for us but for the First Nations who were there for 3,000 years before us.

The guides are saying simply what I said in this brief report, that the salmon are disappearing, and the bass, especially in the northwest Miramichi, are spawning in the hundreds of thousands. The small salmon can’t live.

The guides bring in sportsmen, and they spend two weeks there. They spend thousands of dollars, and they can’t catch a fish. So the whole industry is going to collapse. It’s going to collapse if something is not done to cull the bass.

It’s a very easy solution. There are other problems, of course. We know that. There’s the Greenland fishery that has the moratorium we just put on. There’s global warming The rivers are warming up. We know all of these problems, but the severest problem at the moment is one that can be addressed, and that is a culling of the bass population, which will not allow, at this present moment, our young salmon to survive.

(On motion of Senator Mockler, debate adjourned.)

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