Government approves major extension of Miramichi striped bass fishing season
KRIS MCDAVID Miramichi Leader
Miramichi - The window of opportunity for New Brunswick anglers to head out on the water in search of striped bass is now wide open.
Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced on Friday an amendment to the species management plan in the Gulf Region, which includes the bass-rich Miramichi River watershed.
The next in a series of four limited retention seasons for stripers was slated to run from Sept. 4 to Sept. 7; however, given the changes handed down late last week, fishermen can now legally hook, and keep, a bass clear through until Halloween.
“This decision will have a positive impact on local communities and demonstrates our commitment to the importance of our relationship with indigenous groups and others,” LeBlanc, also the MP for Beausejour, said in a statement.
“It will also mean more people will be out on the water, helping to curb potential poaching.”
LeBlanc noted the decision was made after engaging in consultations with the region’s MPs.
He also noted that he has instructed his department to reach out to the area’s First Nations in order to explore how to increase access to the species for ceremonial purposes.
Stripers have been inundating the lower stretches of the Miramichi River system for the last few years, prompting the federal government to loosen the reins on a species that had been off-limits to anglers back in 2013.
The striper comeback has been a divisive one on a regional level.
In the city, for instance, many have heralded the bass boom for helping open up a new tourism segment and for bringing it international exposure as a must-visit destination for any bass fisherman.
Miramichi’s Striper Cup bass tournament, which capped off its sophomore year in late May after attracting hundreds of participants, is already believed to be one of, if not the largest fishing tournament in the entire country.
The bass run has also prompted more people, both locals and visitors, to take up the hobby and spend an afternoon at different hot spots along the river.
With so many bass in the water these days, the fish are relatively easy to hook and once they’re on the line, they’re strong enough to put up a good fight.
From now until Oct. 31, anglers are allowed to take home one striper per day. The size of any fish being retained must fall between a minimum of 50 centimetres and a maximum length of 65 centimetres.
But even with Ottawa’s move to significantly extend the fall bass season, there are still those who want the government to do more.
A number of regional stakeholders, including Atlantic salmon anglers and lobster fishermen in the area, have been calling on the government to remove all of the restrictions on stripers and effectively make it open season.
Dozens of people gathered for a recent meeting on that subject earlier this summer, blaming the bass explosion on the decline of the Atlantic salmon, which has seen its recreational fishery subjected to two straight seasons of full catch-and-release for the first time ever.
Salmon advocates like local business owner Jim Laws have said the sheer number of bass in the river would make it nearly impossible for baby salmon to make their journey out to sea.
Stripers are one of the apex predators in the Miramichi River and are known for their ravenous appetite. Whatever is happening to the Miramichi’s legendary salmon run, the opposite has been true for a striper species that is now thriving.
Biologists in 2015 estimated striped bass counts in the Miramichi river system at around 301,000, with anglers reporting them as far upriver as the Boiestown area.
Back in 2011, the rough count stood at around 100,000, with observers with groups like the Miramichi Salmon Association already calling it a comeback of epic proportions for a species that only recorded between 3,000 and 5,000 fish in 1993.
According to Fisheries and Oceans, the Northwest Miramichi River is the only known spawning location for stripers in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, and because of those spawning limitations, the species has been labelled as one of special concern by the department.
During the July stakeholders meeting, Miramichi-Grand Lake MP Pat Finnigan suggested that a special stakeholders’ committee should be created that and devoted to the striped bass issue exclusively.
LeBlanc said last week the government would be reaching out to recreational fishing groups, the provincial government, First Nations and others with an interest in the subject in order to develop a new striped bass management plan for 2017.
Those asking for more lax regulations on the bass have cited the importance of having a healthy salmon population on the Miramichi economy.
At last check, the salmon fishery supported upwards of 600 jobs, mostly in the region’s rural communities, and provided close to $20 million to the Miramichi economy.
The federal government has also allocated additional financial resources to Fisheries and Oceans to continue to research what’s happening to the salmon.
Aside from the impact of the bass, other theories have pointed to the ongoing commercial salmon fishery in Greenland and, perhaps, an increase in the seal population as contributing factors in the decline.