The following story appeared in the April 1st edition of the Miramichi Leader – the first part of the story is a bit mixed up but the last does clarify our position. Listen for MSA President Mark Hambrook on the Todd Veinotte radio show on News 88.9this afternoon at 3:15 further discussing the striped bass issue on the Miramichi.
Salmon Association waits with baited breath on angling decision
MIRAMICHI – The ongoing issue concerning whether or not the Department of Oceans and Fisheries will allow the angling of striped bass in the Gulf of St. Lawrence continued when the Miramichi Salmon Association met with department representatives to discuss the situation on March 19.
Mark Hambrook, president of the Miramichi Salmon Association said that two topics were discussed during the meeting. Whether or not Atlantic salmon should be labelled an endangered species to further protect them and whether or not striped bass should be taken off the endangered species list.
A recent study by the provincial fish-and-game group New Brunswick Wildlife Federation suggests the number of striped bass in the water system far exceeds the number for a sustainable recreational fishery – by 100 times or more – while the Department of Fisheries has always maintained that the number of mature, spawning fish was too delicate to allow for a fishery.
Currently angling for striped bass is illegal. Because of that their population in the Miramichi area has expanded dramatically, said Hambrook. His association won’t be happy until the species, which is predatory to salmon is removed from the protected list.
“It’s a lot of bureaucracy, I mean from what we’ve seen so far those regulations do very little to help any stock,” he said. “Areas on the most serious level of the endangered species act for over 20 years and they still haven’t been able to address the problem. We aren’t very pleased with the species at species at risk legislation.”
The Department claimed the species is too fragile to warrant a recreational fishery; until now. They are considering the possibility after hearing the concerns of the Miramichi Salmon Association and others.
And as for making Atlantic salmon endangered, the Miramichi Salmon Association doesn’t think that will be an effective solution either. They say the area is too large and it isn’t fair to some parts of the Gulf of St. Lawrence that have a stable salmon population, whereas some parts of the Miramichi River does not. Also, it would impede recreational salmon fishing, something Miramichi’s tourism industry is dependant on.
Krista Peterson, communications adviser for Fisheries and Oceans Canada emailed the Miramichi Leader with a list of measures the department would be taking to address the concerns, which include: increased patrols to reduce illegal fishing, yearly closure near spawning ground from May 1 to June 30, delaying the open water for Rainbow smelt, changing rules concerning high levels of mortality resulting from Aboriginal gill net activities, more research and training harvesters how to properly handle and release Striped bass.
One such recommendation had Hambrook and his associates steaming, he said.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans published in the Canada Gazette its intention to close a large section of the Northwest Miramichi River from May until June to all angling to protect striped bass spawning area.
“Everyone went ballistic over this. … From a conservationist point of view I’m against angling any kind of fish while they’re spawning but the problem everyone has is when they move (out of the protected area) you should be allowed to fish for them,” explained Hambrook. “We are debating vigorously about how long it should be closed but when they’re off Strawberry March or down by Eel Ground or South Esk, that’s not the spawning area, we would want those areas left open and have the retention fishery coincide with that.”
Hambrook wrote a letter to Minister Keith Ashfield outlining his association’s concerns.
“The MSA is concerned about having 200,000 striped bass in the Northwest Miramichi during the time the salmon smolts are migrating out to sea. There are only 500,000 to 600,000 smolts and the bass are eating voraciously at this time of year. Thankfully, there are millions of smelts in the river and the bass are feeding heavily on them. But if each bass only ate only one smolt, it could reduce the number of smolts by 50 per cent on the Northwest at a time when sea mortality is high on smolts from all rivers,” read part of the four-page letter to Ashfield.
The bass have been feeding on young salmon smolts as part of their daily diet and further putting their population at risk and Hambrook said it’s making his association, whose primary concern is conserving the salmon feel like their hands are tied.
“There’s a lot of people really steaming who went to this meeting. I mean there was petitions and they were prepared to fight,” he said.
If there was a silver lining in the meeting it would be the discussion to open a trial season for striped bass where fishermen could catch and keep at least one bass each, something that would be considered a step in the right direction said Hambrook. No dates have been proposed for the suggested trial season but Hambrook said his association would like to see it take place in May, which is only a month away.
All recommendations from the Miramichi Salmon Association and other conservancy organizations have been collected and will be presented to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans for the final word in the near future.
“We’re into April already and the fishing season is not far away. They’re trying to get something into the minister perhaps next week, for a decision to be made,” said Hambrook who hopes to hear some good news soon.