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Government Must Take Action

TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL - Editorial

Sat. Apr. 16, 2016

Take action on salmon decline

THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS EXTENDED A BAN on keeping wild Atlantic salmon, literally on the eve of the start of the spring fishing season in southern New Brunswick.

The seemingly last-minute decision to continue the catch-and-release restriction for 2016 epitomizes Ottawa’s lax approach over several decades and under both Conservative and liberal governments to save the fish species synonymous with New Brunswick’s great rivers.

It is now up to the Liberals to develop a strategy. In short, that should include immediate funding on science to determine the causes of dwindling stocks while at the same time launching a full-court diplomatic press to stop overfishing in other jurisdictions.

The continuation of catch-and-release is necessary this year. Although salmon returns were up in New Brunswick rivers in 2015, they still aren’t above minimum conservation levels on all tributaries of the Restigouche and Miramichi river systems. Better numbers one year out from the worst salmon runs on record does not warrant an open season.

Groups like the Atlantic Salmon Federation and Miramichi Salmon Association have been leading research work for decades, but Ottawa’s tepid approach is, by comparison, inadequate.

The impact of a lax Ottawa response was seen last year, as the number of salmon angling licences issued in the province fell by 38 per cent. That means less income for outfitters, guides and shops that rely on a robust sport fishery.

The federal government has to take a much more active approach to stop overfishing in other jurisdictions, especially off Greenland, where fishermen are lobbying for an increase in their 45 tonne limit. Canada should enlist the help of the U.S. and European nations that are also seeing stocks decline to mount more pressure on Denmark and Greenland.

The plight of the salmon affects rivers in all four Atlantic Provinces and Quebec. It is, therefore, Ottawa’s job to lead on this issue, to develop a science-based plan that looks at climate change, habitat, first nation fishing and predator species such as seals and striped bass.

Coincidentally, the provinces seeing salmon declines sent a full slate of liberals to Ottawa in last year’s federal election. The Atlantic liberal caucus should lead the fight to save the salmon, pushing for action on both the scientific and diplomatic fronts.

Conservation groups have done their part to identify the problem; it’s time Ottawa matched their commitment with action.