Another season has wrapped up with the optimism of the 2011 season replaced with the dismal results of the 2012 season. Based on the DFO traps, the Northwest Miramichi grilse run was only 22% of last year and the large salmon numbers were 48% of last year resulting in spawning requirements not likely to be achieved, since spawning targets were just barely met last year. The Southwest Miramichi grilse run was only 25% of last year and the large salmon numbers were 79% of last year – that should have spawning requirements close to being achieved.
What happened to the grilse? This is the question everyone is looking for the answer to and many scenarios are being put forward from sea lice infestations from aquaculture being transported to salmon smolt congregating areas, heavy predation from seals, birds and striped bass to a lack of prey species for the salmon to feed on. As we wait for the DFO analysis to come in, it appears that the grilse that did return to the river this year were generally smaller than normal with many anglers reporting that they were catching a lot of 2 lb grilse. We saw more small grilse in our brood stock seining operations this year as well. This may be an indication of a lack of food at some time during the year from the smolt to the grilse stage that might have caused some to die and the survivors to be smaller. What is apparent is the mortality issue is one that is occurring in the sea, since grilse runs are generally down all over and not related to smolt production in fresh water.
As a river organization, we can do much to help the salmon during the fresh water portion of its life, but we must realize that what happens hundreds of kilometres away can affect our salmon populations and there isn’t much yet that we can do about it. Juvenile salmon numbers are very high in the Miramichi this year from the good returns of 2011 and we can hope for a good survival of salmon eggs this winter and hopefully the poor grilse returns of 2012 will be replaced with stronger returns in 2013.