When can we make some forward guesses on the status of the 2016 salmon returns? Definitely not yet. The runs are dependent on so many different factors for timing and strength that the end of July is perhaps the earliest date for looking at the season as a whole. Even at that point there can be major changes that turn predictions into fairy stories.
Southwest Miramichi - The Southwest Millerton trapnet has been disappointing as of June 30, with a count of 33 vs 78 to the same date in 2015.
However, the Dungarvon Barrier is providing a different story. To July 3, there have been 29 grilse and 39 large salmon, a nice comparison with the 14 grilse and 33 large salmon to the same date in 2015. The grilse this year may indeed be a significant part of the spawning population.
Northwest Miramichi - The Cassilis Trapnet is roughly on par to last year with 30 to July 3, compared with 33 last year.
The Northwest Barrier, further up the river had difficulties with high water earlier in the season but still the returns to July 3 are positive, with 37 grilse and 33 large salmon, compared with 26 grilse and 19 large salmon in 2015.
Neither the Southwest nor the Northwest branches met minimum conservation levels in 2015, and everyone is hoping 2016 might provide a boost to the river's spawning levels.
While the Southwest Miramichi had a nice rise on July 3 it has been dropping again. But rainclouds crossing northern New Brunswick today, July 7, may reach south enough to help reverse the trend toward dropping levels, and reduce water temperatures as well.
ASF's Nathan Wilbur is reporting that the angling is still slow on the Miramichi, with everyone waiting for the main run of Atlantic salmon to arrive. This week's cooler temperatures should help.
St. John River - The Mactaquac Dam is reporting 142 grilse and 63 large salmon to June 30. The numbers are low, but still encouraging compared to the zero grilse and zero large salmon reported to the same date in 2015.
The Nashwaak counting fence is reporting 43 grilse and 12 large salmon to June 30, compared with 1 grilse and 4 large salmon to the same date in 2015.
Nashwaak Counting Fence, taken July 6, 2016. Nathan Wilbur/ASF
DFO's John Mallery measures a large salmon at the Nashwaak Counting Fence on July 6. Nathan Wilbur/ASF
With these numbers still so low compared with those of the 1980s, all is in the comparison. But it is an encouraging trend for 2016.
Restigouche - Nathan Wilbur, ASF's Director of New Brunswick Programs says:
Reports from the Restigouche suggest there is a decent run and camps are reporting slightly improved numbers compared to last year.
Angler on the Restigouche in late June - Nathan Wilbur/ASF
Jacquet River is reporting 8 large salmon to June 30, compared with 0 in 2015.
Margaree - Conditions are now hot and sunny, with the water dropping. But the rain crossing the Maritimes today, July 7, is supposed to reach Cape Breton tonight. Hopefully enough to cool the river and bring up the flow. Not as many anglers this week as last.
LaHave - The Morgan Falls Fishway count to June 30 continued on the low side, with 3 grilse and 30 large salmon, compared with the 2015 numbers of 84 grilse and 13 large salmon. Undoubtedly many are wondering why so few grilse are making it back.
Sackville River - Like the LaHave, the grilse return is depressed with only 4, along with 2 large salmon, compared with 11 grilse and no large salmon in 2015.
At a quarter of the way through 2016's season, rivers like the Matane, Matapedia and Cascapedia have received more than their share of water in a very short period of time with flows doubling and tripling during an 18 to 24 hour period.
Angling continues to be reported as good (but guardedly so) due to the ups and downs of river flows starting in late May to the end of June.
Photo Jeffrey Bourdages, Bonaventure River, in June.
The new management plan had identified last autumn, rivers exempt to the new regulations (Moisie, Natashquan, Causapscal) of mandatory live release prior to Aug. 1.
Anglers should be aware that others were subsequently identified this past spring (York and Patapedia) where harvesting of salmon will be allowed as of July 1 and the Saint-Jean on the North Shore as being exempted from mandatory live release as of June 1 to July 5 where the harvest of one salmon will be permitted per angler per trip at the 13 Miles Camp and until July 22 at the Upper Falls camp.
According to the ZEC Gaspé web site http://saumongaspe.com/la-reglementation-2016-en-bref/, three in-river counts will be done on the York and Saint-Jean rivers (early July, late July and late September) and two in-river counts will be done on the Dartmouth (late July and late September).
Sources in Gaspé report the York in-river count will be undertaken, beginning on July 7.
Harvest of large salmon will be permitted on the York and Patapedia as of July 1 in accordance with an agreement concluded with the Quebec Government and the delegated river management groups.
Besides information on the ZEC Gaspé website, no additional information on this agreement seems to be available.
Reminder to anglers fishing Quebec Rivers – take the time to report your releases in order to have the most accurate angling statistics and for the river managers to accurately calculate angling success.
York, Dartmouth and St-Jean Rivers
Information on the number of fish being landed has been very sketchy to date. Some data is available as of June 27, http://saumongaspe.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Statistique-captures-2016.12.pdf. Angling began on May 25.
Saint-Jean (North Shore)
To June 28 2016, 117 salmon have been reported landed. Of which, 104 were reported released and 13 reported as killed. Previous years comparative figures are not available to date.
The number of rod days sold is down considerably this year compared to the three previous years due to very high water and obligatory live release of salmon until mid-season count can be performed to assess abundance.
It is uncertain whether the runs in many Newfoundland rivers are early - or are greater in 2016. With more rivers assessed than in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, there is a picture of most rivers having increased returns in 2016 – except perhaps for the Avalon Peninsula and the south coast, which is one area that is inadequately sampled.
Exploits River - So far the count has been not only far ahead of last year, but far ahead of the 2011-2015 average. One can only hope this continues.
The Campbellton River has double last year's returns to July 3, and in line with returns since the early 1990s.
What is with the Terra Nova River? Not only is the return 9 times that of 2015 to July 3, but far ahead of anything the river has seen in the past generation.
But as mentioned, the Garnish River with only 93 is far behind last year's 264. And the Conne River is only at 802, well behind last year's 1126, and hoped for returns.
On the West Coast there are good signs.
Harry's River now has 2,505 as of July 3, well ahead of last year's 2,266 and the 5-year average of 1,479.
Western Arm Brook was down last year. But so far (to July 3) has had 325, a fine showing compared to the 12 of 2015.
Torrent River in late June. Photo Don Ivany/ASF
Further up the Northern Peninsula the return to the Torrent River has been 249, well above the 9 last year, and better than any of the 5-year averages.
Of the assessed rivers, only the Sand Hill has numbers - the 12 grilse and 72 large salmon to July 3 comparing favourably with last year's 36 grilse and 40 large salmon. Appears to be a good large salmon year on the Sand Hill.
Eagle River - Pratt Falls Salmon Lodge is reporting nice numbers of large Atlantic salmon, healthy, strong and vigorous as they move upriver.
The Penobscot is having a "middlin" year, being the 2nd best of the last four. To July 3 there have been 454 Atlantic salmon counted at Milford, more than double the return of 201 in 2014. This year, about 68% of the returns are large salmon. Look forward to seeing the results once the effect of the dam removals and improved fish passage kicks in, a few years from now.