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Anglers Upset DFO did not Attend Striped Bass Meeting

Anglers upset DFO did not attend striped bass meeting

SAMANTHA MAGEE Miramichi Leader
April 8, 2014

MIRAMICHI • Approximately 200 men and women attended Sunday afternoon’s public information forum to discuss their concerns with the striped bass season.

The meeting was held at the Newcastle Lions Club and organized by a small group of avid, local anglers who are upset the striped bass fishing season this year will not be without restrictions. Many local fishermen think the striped bass have played a direct part in the decline of the Miramichi River system’s Atlantic salmon population and they believe and say opening up the striped bass season would be a step in the right direction to bolster salmon stocks.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has announced that this year’s striped bass season will run from May 1 to 21, Aug. 1 to 21 and Sept. 24 to 30, a total of 48 days, almost doubling the days allowed of the 2013 season. During that time “anglers will be able to retain a maximum of one striped bass per day and with a prohibition on possessing more than one striped bass at any given time,” according to a DFO news release.

Last year the season ran for two weeks in May and another 10 days in August.

The striped bass are still on the endangered species list but Miramichi fishermen have been putting pressure on the federal department for years to have the season completely open for retention, without size limits on the fish.

Currently, the maximum length of fish an angler can keep is between 50 and 65 centimetres, in 2013 the length had to be within 55 and 65 cm.

The size limit is imposed in “an effort to protect the large spawners,” read a DFO news release.

However, fishermen at Sunday’s meeting, said these regulations are not even close to what they were hoping to see this year, and were upset that no one from DFO attended the meeting.

“It speaks volumes that they’re not here,” said David Whyte, one of the organizers of the meeting.

He read an email correspondence between himself and a DFO official that said DFO would only agree to a meeting in private with just one or two representatives from the concerned fishermen.

Whyte’s response was that the meeting should be a public one and it was ultimately agreed by those in attendance to notify DFO they wanted to have a public meeting agreed to within a week.

Everyone who attended received a meeting agenda listing the email contact information for various politicians and DFO officials to email them the anglers’ concerns.

In the meantime, a petition that was available for signing at the meeting will be sent to federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea that reads: “DFO is mistaken in their assumption that enough is being done to engage and inform the public to solicit feedback from all stakeholders as part of their decision making process. I refuse to be ignored and stand idly by, while poor decisions continue to place the Miramichi watershed at risk. By the way of my affixed signature, I respectfully request that the Minister take immediate action to address this gap in DFO’s current operating structure.”

Miramichi anglers have long said that the striped bass population has been growing exponentially, eating young salmon and putting other species in danger as well but DFO studies don’t seem to reflect their views.

Many at the meeting say something is wrong with the department’s numbers.

Whyte said biologists have told him DFO isn’t interested in independent research.

Retired biologist Tom Pettigrew was also present at the meeting and said the same.

Jim Laws, one of the meeting’s organizers, said he believes one of the reasons DFO doesn’t allow independent research is for “political reasons.”

“It has to do with Ouebec announcing a bass season this year, the first in ten years,” said Laws.

In Quebec anglers can keep one striped bass per day from July 26 to August 24 that is less than 65 cm long.

“The Miramichi was limited last year to 55 to 65 cm and that’s one of the least likely fish you’re going to get on the river. They do not want any fish taken out of this river,” he said.

“We’ve heard over the years at Quebec salmon meetings that they do not want the Miramichi bass season open because they want the bass back in Quebec.”

A report released last month by the department reported that in 2013, 2,600 striped bass were retained and with an assumed catch and mortality rate of 10 per cent, it is assumed 6,000 more of those fish perished upon their release. That’s 3,200 striped bass taken out of the Miramichi River last year in total, according to DFO.

That’s not enough to make a dent in the striped bass population, according to Whyte and other local fishermen who spoke at the meeting.

Meanwhile, the Miramichi Salmon Association is reporting below-normal return rates of returning salmon that they say is cause for concern.

Anglers used to be able to catch and retain up to eight salmon grilse, now that number is four. DFO is also lowering the daily retention limit for adult salmon to one from two in the Restigouche area.

The consensus at the meeting was recreational salmon anglers should not be paying the price for what they believe is a problem caused by striped bass.

Laws said other fish species are also being affected, species like smelts, shad, gaspereau, trout and even baby lobsters, which are all food staples in the striped bass’ diet.

“(Fishermen) dump thousands of bass back in the river each time they try to get a few gaspereau...This is because the bass are eating all the small ones and sooner or later it will catch up to you.”

Laws said he is fed up with DFO not listening and suggested it could soon be time for fishermen to gather at a designated section of the Miramichi River on a designated date and fish for striped bass despite any government-imposed regulations.

He indicated this would be something that would not be as easily overlooked as a meeting.

There were some politicians at the meeting, including Jake Stewart, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Southwest Miramichi. He gave his support to the disgruntled group, saying DFO should consider looking at independent research.

Miramichi Deputy Mayor Lisa Harris invited those in attendance to come to a city council meeting to voice their concerns. Also on hand were Serge Robichaud, PC MLA for Miramichi Bay - Neguac; and Human Resources Minister Robert Trevors, PC MLA for Miramichi Centre.

Percy Flanagan, the special assistant to O’Neill-Gordon told the large group that DFO guaranteed that they would meet with the concerned fishermen as long as they would be willing to “meet as a smaller group in a more controlled environment.” Flanagan was quickly booed after that remark, with many yelling “no!”.

Flanagan added he would recommend DFO meet with the public, which was met with a round of applause.

“It’s your choice,” he said.

Whyte said the ultimate goal would be to have open consultation, comprehensive reviews of last year’s reports and an open striped bass fishery without size limits.