Finish of the 2018 Season - Some Last Numbers, Perspectives and Experiences
Lewis Hinks, ASF's Director for Programs in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, captured the beauty we had at the end of the season on the West River (Pictou) with the misty riverscape below. It says a great deal, with the water levels up in levels Atlantic salmon will appreciate during the spawning season.
A misty Oct. 31 on the West River (Pictou) with beautiful water levels, warm late autumn light, and a promise of Atlantic salmon to be born next spring. Lewis Hinks/ASF
ASF's President Bill Taylor on the Northumberland Rivers, on 27 Oct. 2018
Gerry Doucet releases a nice Northumberland rivers salmon with Bill Taylor and daughter Kelsey. Autumn 2018 has been an excellent year for these rivers where the salmon almost all come in during October.
Suzanne and I lived in New Glasgow, NS the three years before Wilfred Carter hired me and we moved to Saint Andrews.
During those three years I spent a lot of time exploring the wonderful little salmon rivers that flow into the Northumberland Strait between Oxford and Antigonish; the Phillip, Wallace, John, Waugh, West, East and South. They are short, spate rivers that run through well kept farmer's fields, hardwood hills and the tidy towns of Oxford, Tatamagouche, New Glasgow and Antigonish. They are autumn run rivers, the salmon entering freshwater on the high tides of October. In low water years the salmon might not enter the rivers until the last days of the month. The salmon runs number in the hundreds rather than thousands but as the majority of the fish enter the rivers during a span of only two or three weeks the fishing can be quite productive, especially when following a good raise in water as was the case this year.
We spent the last weekend of October visiting our friends Charles and Patricia Gaines in East Tracadie. Charles spent several years as a Director of ASF (US) and currently serves on the National Council.
We hooked up with my buddy Gerry Doucet, a dedicated volunteer with the Antigonish Rivers Association and the Nova Scotia Salmon Association to fish Saturday, October 27th. The rivers were in perfect shape following heavy rain a few days earlier. The rivers crested Thursday night, were dropping slowly and clearing up nicely with just a hint of copper colour to the water.
When we arrived at the river Saturday morning it was running high and a cool 40 F. We fished intermediate tips and the usual fall patterns; Ally Shrimps, General Practitioners, Cascades and brightly coloured Popsicles. We all hooked fish and released four handsome, sea liced salmon of 10, 12, 15 and 17 pounds. The salmon were strong and fought well.
We had planned to also fish Sunday morning but we awoke to heavy rain and wind and opted to laze around the cottage sipping coffee before packing up to head home. A great end to the 2018 salmon season.
also had some kind words for the quality of the salmon angling this October:
Good fishing continued for the last week of the season on the Wallace and the Philip - at least it was good for those who could handle the ice cold waters! I would say anglers were also having luck elsewhere along the north shore by the sounds of things. Unfortunately though, every season has to come to an end. It's safe to say that the salmon should have no problem getting way up the small streams with the rain we've received! A little sigh of relief after the low waters of last year. Lets hope the in-river production is high in 2018/19.
Bill Taylor connects with another Atlantic salmon on Oct. 27.
Greg Lovely has these notes on the Margaree in early November:
I have been out checking the tributaries for salmon and trout redds, and I have not yet seen any spawning activity. Perhaps the water is too warm?. The Margaree river has had high water for quite sometime and searching for redds has not been productive.
The Margaree hatchery has been busy trying to gather broodstock for other rivers in Cape Breton and again, very high water has been a problem.
I am just back from a DFO meeting, where warm water protocols are being developed for the Margaree River. "Times they are a changing." As you know, this summer was the first time ever the Margaree River had to be closed because of low/warm water.
Certainly enough water for spawning - but redds hard to find.
An abundance of water sent rivers up and over their banks. However, the flooding was not truly massive, so most Atlantic salmon should have successful spawning.
Nashwaak River on 1 Nov. 2018. Hopefully Atlantic salmon are able to find suitable areas for redds. The water is quite clear, and certainly cold and oxygenated. Nathan Wilbur/ASF
Nathan Wilbur, ASF Director of Programs for New Brunswick, provides this overview of the 2018 season in New Brunswick
It was a hot summer in New Brunswick. Although most rivers did not suffer record low water levels like in 2017, conditions were by no means favourable for angling or for salmon. The key issue impacting conditions was warm water from prolonged periods of air temperatures exceeding 25-30C. Despite another poor year of water conditions, the Restigouche system had what appeared to be fairly good returns based on anecdotal reports. Most holding pools on the Restigouche and tributaries were holding salmon throughout the summer, but we have not seen the final swim through counts yet. These are usually released at the December recreational fishery meeting, or at the science meeting in January.
Heading south from the Restigouche, the Jacquet River received its usual trickle of returns throughout the summer and a surge of fish in the fall on high water with a peak of 57 Atlantic salmon passing through he counting fence on Oct. 13th. Overall to Oct. 21st, the riverís counting fence saw 145 grilse (179 in 2017) and 75 salmon (89 in 2017).
The Nepisiguit suffered low and warm water this year, similar to the Northwest Miramichi (their headwaters are close in proximity), which presumably deterred most fish from entering the river until fall. The summer run was poorer than most recent years, but fishing picked up into the fall when conditions improved.
Overall, the Miramichi suffered poor conditions and poor adult returns, by most angler accounts. Angling (and catching) improved from about mid-September onwards to the seasonís end, but nothing to write home about. Even after a good raise in water on October 12 that we expected would draw in a fall run, very few fish were seen or caught on the Cains, which is renowned for its fall run. Interestingly, many fish caught had sea lice, indicating there was a fresh run coming in but simply werenít showing themselves.
The Southwest Miramichiís adult run is estimated by using a trapnet in the estuary, which captures a portion of the run (about 5% of salmon). From this index, weíve seen historically that run timing of salmon between summer and fall shifts around from time to time. A few years ago about half the run came in before July 31st, and half after. Last year in 2017, less than 30% of the run came before July 31st and this year it was only 15%.
The major issue in recent years on the Miramichi has been the impact of striped bass on out-migrating smolt, and this has come to a head. From the ASF/MSA smolt tracking, fewer than 10% of tagged smolt from the Northwest Miramichi survived through the estuary in 2017, and only 23% of Southwest Miramichi tagged smolts survived. This compares to a consistent 65-75% survival rate through the estuary from 2003-2011. Smolt survival has seen a steady decline since striped bass numbers began climbing, from just a few thousand in the late 90s to nearly 1 million in 2017. ASFís smolt tracking has covered the period 2003-2018.
ASF has also been tracking smolt on the Restigouche and Cascapedia rivers, and survival rate of smolt has remained relatively constant in the 65-75% range, while Miramichi survival has plummeted. There are no bass aggregating in those rivers during the smolt run, they are in the Northwest Miramichi at the populationís only known successful spawning ground. We know from predation work that at least some of the decline in smolt survival on the Miramichi is attributable to striped bass, but with current technology and methods, are likely only able to prove a portion of the full impacts.
For some perspective, current smolt survival on the Saint John River system through several major hydroelectric dams is several times greater than smolt survival on the Miramichi. The good news is that Eel Ground First Nation has started out on their 25,000 quota commercial striped bass fishery and fish are heading to market.
Charles Cusson, ASF Director of Quebec Programs has a few final words on the 2018 season:
Rivers in Quebec, as in the other salmon regions, are now entering the big sleep period until the spring. Fish have been spawning in very low water conditions and now recently the rains have arrived.
Rivers such as the Cascapedia and the Malbaie (Charlevoix Region) have reported end of season numbers recently and are reporting decent angling results keeping in mind the difficult conditions anglers faced from mid-June until Sept. 30th.
For the Cascapedia 2018 season, 1,985 fish were landed (413 grilse and 1,882 salmon). During the four months of angling, only three salmon were killed. In comparison, the 2017 season resulted in 2,307 fish being reported landed (215 grilse and 2,092 salmon).
The Malbaie 2018 season resulted in 207 fish being reported landed (75 grilse and 137 salmon) with a run of 520 fish. In 2017, 200 fish were reported landed (47 grilse and 153 salmon) and a run of 540 fish (282 salmon and 258 grilse).
Cascapedia River in September, 2018. Photo Charles Cusson/ASF
Don Ivany, ASF Program Director for Newfoundland and Labrador, reviews the 2018 season with all its confusion and concerns:
The 2018 angling season in NL will likely be remembered as being one of the most memorable because the season was marred with controversy right from the start, and to the very end.
Much of this was brought on by extremely low returns in 2016, followed by even lower returns halfway through the 2017 season, which prompted DFO to conduct an in-season review at the time which resulted in a number of new angling restrictions being implemented. Of particular note, DFO closed all rivers on the Island to retention fishing for the remainder of the 2017 season, and only permitted catch and release angling. This prompted much debate among anglers and various stakeholders at the time, which carried over to DFOís Salmonid Advisory meetings last winter.
The main issue was with the lack of good science, just how should the 2018 angling season start. Some felt that retention should be permitted while others felt the rivers should open as catch and release only until an in-season review was conducted, some wanted both, and others felt the season should be closed altogether.
The controversy intensified when the provincial government recommended a retention fishery be permitted, and if stocks could not support one that all rivers be closed completely to all angling for the duration of the 2018 season.
The extended debate led to the late printing of the angling licences for 2018, which were not available until a few days after the traditional June 01 season opening date. Needless to say, no anglers were happy. In the end, the season did open with DFO opting to take a cautionary approach by limiting retention angling to one fish per angler and a daily catch and release limit of three fish per day, until an in-season review in early July. The controversy then continued when the provincial government introduced their own regulations limiting catch and release to a total of ten fish for the season.
As if this was not enough, the in-season review conducted by DFO in 2018 indicated that returns were again very low at that time, and so they again limited angling to live release for the remainder of the season, and introduced a new water temperature protocol that stated if the daily water temperature on a river exceeded 18 degrees Celsius on any day the river would close to all angling, until the water temperature fell below 18 degrees.
On an average year this would have had some impact, but the last half of the 2018 angling season was one of the hottest and driest on record, which resulted in the majority of rivers on the Island being closed for much of the remaining season, again frustrating the angler community. Some felt it was the right thing to do for the fish, while others argued that without an angler presence on the rivers poachers would have a field day. Still others, argued there should have been a better balance between retention and live release angling from the season start.
Based on the events of this past summer two things are certain: (i) there has certainly been a wedge driven between anglers of differing perspectives, and also between some stakeholder groups in NL.
This is not good for the resource, since everyone needs to be united if our salmon stocks are to have a fighting chance of surviving and (ii) the industry as a whole suffered a significant blow from an economic perspective since the restrictions implemented this year led to fewer anglers fishing for much less time than usual. As a result, angling supply stores sold less fishing gear, guides had less work, and outfitters were virtually closed down for much of the season and had to turn guests away. Itís safe to say that there were no winners this year as a result of the management plan that was implemented.
However, itís not all bad news.
As it turns out salmon returns to most rivers in the province were later than usual this year. And after the in-season review was conducted, counting fence numbers picked up significantly. More fish likely made it to their spawning grounds than was first expected. Also, the final counts for 2018, while not impressive, were much better than the low returns of 2016 and 2017, and this alone gives every angler and fisheries manager some hope for next year, and beyond.
Finally, lessons learned from this past season will hopefully lead to a better management plan for next year, one that seeks to find a responsible balance between conservation and socio/economic needs. To this end DFO has expanded their public consultation process this autumn to include the widest array of views. If all those involved can put aside their personal differences, thereís a good chance a much better management plan will be prepared and implemented in 2019.
Jason Valiere, Biologist with the State of Maine's Dept. of Marine Resources, says:
We have captured 7 new salmon since the last report, 3 MSW and 4 grilse. That brings the 2018 estimate to 756 at Milford and 771 total for the Penobscot! That includes 481 Multi-Sea winter fish and 289 grilse.
These returns make 2018 one of the better years since the spectacular 2011 run.