SAMANTHA MAGEE Miramichi Leader
MIRAMICHI – New regulations for the upcoming salmon fishing season requiring anglers to release their catches in one segment of the Miramichi River are a reasonable measure to address the sagging salmon population, according to the president of the Miramichi Salmon Association.
The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada has announced there will only be catch and release in the Northwest Miramichi River and the daily retention limit has been lowered for both adult and young salmon.
“These changes are in response to poor salmon returns, it doesn’t mean these changes will be permanent,” said association president Mark Hambrook. “I think these short-term measures are to counteract a poor return but maybe the (salmon) return will be better this year.” There will be three new changes in total, two permanent and one running from June 1 to July 31.
DFO said in a news release that in June and July catch and release will be mandatory along the Northwest Miramichi River system upstream from the Red Bank Bridge at Route 425.
For the remainder of the season, the following areas will be all limited to catch and release: any portions of the Little Southwest Miramichi River and its tributaries upstream from Catamaran Brook, portions of the Northwest system upstream of Little River, and the stretches of both branches of the Big Sevogle River that lie upstream from, but not including, Big Forks.
The two permanent changes include lowering the daily retention limit for young salmon, or grilse, from eight to four on all New Brunswick salmon-fishing rivers. DFO is also lowering the daily retention limit for adult salmon from two until one in the Restigouche area.
Hambrook said his organization is pushing towards a new model to classify the amount of fish in each river system and said he hopes to have each river colour-coded in the future, similar to the system Newfoundland uses.
“We believe in harvesting on abundance so you could harvest more grilse out of one river than another.”
Miramichi’s salmon population took its biggest hit in 2012, the reasons for which still remain largely unknown .
“All of a sudden in 2012, it was the worst grilse run ever,” said Hambrook. “There was only 8,000 fish when there had been 40,000 the year before. The number of older fish was lower but not nearly as bad.”
Looking at last year’s figures, he said numbers seemed to have improved but they are nowhere near the 2011 statistics.
In its latest bulletin to members, the Miramichi Salmon Association reports the number of adult salmon returning to the Miramichi River in 2013 was down slightly from 2012, from 13,590 to 12,540. However, grilse numbers were up – 11,760 in 2013 compared to 8,282 in 2012 – and that is encouraging, said Hambrook.
The association’s bulletin noted other trends with regard to increased grilse counts and comparisons between 2013 and 2012.
“This variation was consistent throughout the system, with the Southwest Miramichi River seeing a slight decline in large salmon (10,120 vs. 10,780) but an increase in grilse (7,394 vs. 5,587). The Northwest Miramichi also experienced the same, namely large salmon were down a bit (2,388 vs. 2,666) but grilse were up (4,143 vs. 2,625),” states the bulletin.
“While it is certainly encouraging to know we had more total fish in the system last year, we still need to be very cognisant of the fact that the 2012 and 2013 estimates are the lowest for the time period of 1970-2013 (43 years).”
Hambrook said it’s frustrating not knowing why the young salmon population too such a hit but a number of factors could be in play: striped bass who eat young salmon, an undetermined incident of some kind in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, water temperatures or maybe the salmon’s food source.
“All we can do is speculate on why,” he said.
Hambrook explained that with the melting of the polar ice caps, more fresh water is moving into the North Atlantic, which has had effects on capelin, a fish about the size of a smelt and a main food source for salmon.
“(The capelins) aren’t as fat anymore they are struggling because they’re eating smaller sea bugs,” said Hambrook. “There’s something amiss with the capelin population and whether that contributes to the poor grilse return, I don’t know, it’s one of the theories.”