Efforts to protect salmon continue

by everett mosher

Times & transcript

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This spring salmon anglers were very concerned about the large number of striped bass spawning in the lower section of the Miramichi River.

Indeed, it appears that anglers were not at all happy that instead of hooking salmon or trout they were pulling in striped bass after striped bass which they then had to release. So perhaps a comparison is in order.

Both striped bass and salmon are a good eating fish. When the season reopens for striped bass along the north-east coast of this province that stretches from Nova Scotia to Quebec the limit will likely be the same as that currently on Bay of Fundy waters. There the limit is one fish per day, with a minimum, maximum total length of 68-150cm (27-59 inches). When fishing salt waters a sport fishing licence is not required.

A resident salmon licence costs $40.68 and allows the keeping of eight fish for the season with a maximum size limit, grilse retention only, of less than 63 cm (twenty-four and three-quarters inches).

Our two major salmon rivers are the Miramichi River and the Restigouche River. On the Miramichi there are riparian rights where only the owner of the land along the river bank can fish that section of river for salmon. That limits where you and I, the general public, can fish.

In Nova Scotia in the 1930s. the provincial government purchased the riparian rights on all their rivers, so now any N.S. resident can freely fish most all provincial waters for salmon or other fish.

Then we have 18 stretches of prime New Brunswick salmon waters that in 2003 were auctioned off to the highest bidders and where you and I are not allowed to fish.

The Restigouche River is where very large salmon are not uncommon yet only eight per cent of those salmon waters can be fished by the general public (that’s you and I). The rest of the river is under the control of clubs or other organizations, some of which has been in place for the last 100 years.

Members of those clubs are mostly millionaires and/or heads of very large companies and living in such places as Toronto, Montreal, Boston and New York.

Thus a very large percentage of our salmon waters that should be part of our birthright cannot be fished by the citizens of this province. Yes, we can fish certain sections of the smaller rivers such as the Charlo, Jacquet and Upsalquitch that have salmon, but not in the numbers found in our two largest salmon rivers.

We also have the annual draw for crown reserve waters where if you are lucky, you get to fish some prime waters, yet the cost, and that of daily crown reserve is creeping up to the point where those on a limited or low income may decide not to apply although in the past with lower fees they were often regular applicants.

Fishing for salmon is more than a little iffy in that it depends in part on the weather, water levels and water temperature, how long the salmon have been in the river and how many anglers have been casting for those salmon.

Most salmon are simply not at all inclined to take a fly. It’s not uncommon for an angler to spend a full day casting a fly to salmon yet not having a single strike.

On the other hand striped bass are very aggressive, and will hit anything that looks like food.

Last year, individual anglers while fishing the Strawberry marsh area of the Miramichi River were reported to have caught and released more that 100 striped bass in a single day while fishing for salmon.

There are many other similar reports from waters all along the northeast coast of this province and that includes a gaspereau fisher finding over 100 bass each day in his trap during the gaspereau season.

Twenty-five years ago, those fishing the Miramichi River below Quarryville during the spring season for salmon or trout seldom caught striped bass, yet in those same years and during the fall all along the north-east coast of this province anglers were taking home anywhere from five to 50 striped bass caught during a single night’s fishing from a wharf.

In those days striped bass had no bag, size or season limits and were not at all protected, yet should have been, with the final result the current closed season along our north-east coast.

In the last five years the New Brunswick Wildlife Trust fund which receives five dollars every time we buy a licence from the DNR gave approximately $1,858,000 to fish related projects. Of that at least half went to salmon projects. Money spent on striped bass from 2007 to 2010 — zero — but that changed in 2011 with $10,000 going to a striped bass project.

Of the 100 salmon smolt that go to sea, on average only about five return as either grilse (after one year at sea) or mature salmon (two years or more at sea). Who would invest $100 if they knew they would lose $95 of their $100?

Of the 95 fish that do not return, blame cormorants, blame the seals, and blame those salt water trawlers that scoop up everything including those salmon with relative impunity.

As for fighting qualities most would give that to salmon, yet in salmon fishing a long and limber fly rod is used that requires playing the fish while those after striped bass use a relatively stiff spinning rod, and a reel with an adjustable drag loaded with high test monofilament line that will often allow the angler to drag a striped bass onto the shore.

When all is said and done resident anglers still buy 18,000 salmon licences each year, and, as our various fund raising events indicate, continue to support efforts to increase our salmon populations.

We look forward to the re-opening of the striped bass season along our north-east coast that, according to most folks, should have occurred this year.

■ Everett Mosher is a Sackville-based writer and avid outdoorsman. His column appears every Tuesday.