Details Released on First Nation Commercial Bass Fishery


Details Released on First Nation Commercial Bass Fishery

Nathan DeLong
Aug. 10, 2018

The federal government has shared details on a commercial striped bass fishery approved earlier this summer for an indigenous community in northeast New Brunswick.

Krista Petersen, Fisheries and Oceans Canada spokeswoman, wrote in an email to the Miramichi Leader on July 25 that Natoaganeg First Nation received permission to harvest 25,000 striped bass from the Northwest Miramichi River in the spring season.

"The licence for the limited spring fishery was issued on June 29, Petersen said.

Natoaganeg officials and salmon conservationists had called for a communal enterprise harvest for several years, citing the economic benefits for residents and communities.

George Ginnish, Natoaganeg chief and band manager, said most stripers left the river for the summer by the time commercial access was authorized.

The bass spawning period began in late May and continued through June.

The First Nation will have another harvest window in October and November.

Petersen said the quota for then hasn't been determined yet. She said fish reeled in for sale will face the same size restrictions as recreational angling, which is between 50 and 65 centimetres in overall length.

Pressure for commercial bass fishing was amplified in salmon circles and at Natoaganeg amid declining wild Atlantic salmon stocks in the Miramichi River system in recent years.

In 2017, there were 26,900 salmon spawners in the Miramichi.

An estimated 994,000 striped bass with reproductive capabilities were in the river last year, up from more than 300,000 in 2016.

Salmon organizations have said that's alarming.

Mark Hambrook, Miramichi Salmon Association president, said there were 50,000 predatory bass in the Miramichi system 1 Oyears ago.

He said transmitters on young salmon smolts reported 70 per cent of them went from sea to the Miramichi River 12 years ago.

Preliminary data this year suggest less than 25 per cent are even reaching sea.

Stripers are known for their large appetites. They're reportedly eating smolts before they get to the ocean.

"Our salmon population may drop so low it may never recover again, said Hambrook.

Both bass and salmon are native to the Miramichi River.

This commercial bass harvest is the first in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence region since it was closed in 1996.

Hambrook and Debbie Norton, Miramichi Watershed Management Committee president, both said bass stocks need to be managed better.

"We have a serious concern that the population is out of control, said Norton.

Bass enthusiasts, however, say removing bass to revive salmon numbers isn't the best solution.

Recreational salmon angling has long been a major economic driver in greater Miramichi, but the bass resurgence has allowed an increasingly popular striper sport fishery to emerge in the city in recent years.

Jeff Wilson, Miramichi Striper Cup tournament co-promoter, worries that could disappear if a commercial bass harvest proceeds.

"There's some room for a sustainable harvest -as long as it's not when they're all spawning, Wilson said, adding that a fall fishery would work better than a harvest near stripers' reproductive cycle.

The commercial fishery follows Fisheries and Oceans increasing the daily bass bag limit to three fish per person throughout the season.

The retention limit is also three.

The department dropped the spawn period closure on the Northwest Miramichi River from nine days to five and reduced the shuttered area size from 9.8 kilometres to 6.5, as well.

"Fisheries and Oceans has taken incremental steps to increase indigenous food, social, ceremonial and recreational fishery opportunities for striped bass in the last six years, said Petersen.

Petersen said steps are being taken to keep recreational and business fishing sustainable.

"The department will monitor the fishery during the season and later on will evaluate its results, said Petersen.

"The Government of Canada is committed to working with indigenous communities on fisheries programs and initiatives in a spirit of respect and reconciliation.