Striped bass numbers trouble salmon anglers

K. BRYANNAH JAMES                                Miramichi Leader               

Miramichi – Local anglers are still reeling from the Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s stance on striped bass fishing in the area and are looking to voice their concerns once again about the ripple effect it’s having on other species in Miramichi river systems. With that in mind, anybody with concerns is encouraged to attend a public information session taking place on Sunday, April 6, at the Newcastle Lions Club from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Organizer Jim Laws, owner of Miramichi Hunting and Miramichi Electronics and an avid fishermen, has been vocal about the issue of striped bass and impact the species is having on the Miramichi River system’s Atlantic salmon population. “Why are they (DFO) destroying one of the premier salmon rivers in the world for striped bass?” he said. Last April, Laws hosted a meeting than drew 280 recreational fishermen, who met with department officials to discuss the question of striped bass. For Laws and many others, he says, there is no question. He said stripers, which are still protected under federal law, are devouring baby salmon by the mouthful and are arguably the single biggest threat to one of Miramichi’s most vital resources. The striped bass population has exploded, Laws said, and anglers have been calling on government to loosen their regulations and open up a bass fishery here. “The bass have taken over our river. The Northwest Miramichi is closed to salmon fishing, to hook-and-release only until the end of July, and the salmon numbers are down all over,” said Laws. “And they have not announced a season for the Miramichi River yet and they won’t give us any answers as to what’s going on.” The federal government opened up a limited recreational striped bass fishery along the southern Gulf of the St. Lawrence, where anglers were allowed to keep one bass per day as long as it was between 55 and 65 centimetres in length. A large number of fishermen lined the banks of the main Miramichi River at Strawberry Marsh during an abbreviated two-week bass fishery in May and another 10-day window in August. Laws said he doubts the opportunity so much as put a dent in the bass population. “The size they gave us was the least-likely fish to catch,” he said. “It was between 55 and 65 centimetres. One fish hadn’t grown quite that big, and the next fish was growing much larger.” These limited retention periods were the first time in more than a decade fishermen were allowed to keep the fish, due to the species having been endangered in the past. A Fisheries and Oceans report published this month by a Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat Science Response for the Gulf Region details how the initiative fared. It turns out that Laws’ hunch on the fishery’s impact might have been correct. “A minimum of 32,000 striped bass were caught and released during the two short retention periods in 2013, and over 2,600 or more were retained,” read the summary of results. “With an assumed catch-and-release mortality rate of 10 per cent, losses of striped bass directly attributed to fishing during the two retention periods in 2013 were at least 6,000 fish of all size groups with almost half within the total length slot of 55 to 65 cm.” As reported in this newspaper earlier this month, Fisheries and Oceans Canada it imposing catch-and-release activities for most of the Northwest Miramichi River watershed and its tributaries for the upcoming salmon season due to almost 10 years of below-normal returning salmon counts. The below-normal return rate of salmon has lead to the even divide of daily retention number of grilse in the province for anglers, from eight to four. Laws said striped bass haven’t just affected the salmon population. “The bass population has exploded, and it’s killing our salmon fishery, our smelt fishery, our gaspereau fishery, our shad fishery, our sea-run trout fishery. They’re all gone.” He said Fisheries and Oceans has been invited to next week’s forum but noted the group doesn’t want to sit through a presentation from the department as at last year’s meeting. He said fishermen here are more interested in having an open and honest dialogue about the matter and what can be done about it. Laws said, ideally, people are looking to have a year-round open season without a size limit for striped bass.