NB First Nation gets go-ahead for commercial bass harvest


N.B. First Nation gets go-ahead for commercial bass harvest

Nathan Delong
July 24, 2018

An indigenous community outside Miramichi has been approved for a commercial striped bass harvest.

Natoaganeg First Nation's request for a striper fishing enterprise on the Northwest Miramichi River has been granted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

George Ginnish, Natoaganeg chief and band manager, said limited commercial access got the green light in the past week.

"It came a bit later than we hoped it would happen," Ginnish said. "We hoped to get into the spring fishery.

"But we're going to get ready for the fall, as the bass return in the fall.

Natoaganeg's trial fishery license ran from June 29 to mid-July, but Ginnish said most stripers had left the river by then. Their spawning period began late in May and continued throughout June.

The First Nation now will have a commercial fishing window available in October and November.

Natoaganeg's formal striper harvest application was submitted to the federal government last fall, but Ginnish said it was in the works for much longer.

"It's quite an intensive process," Ginnish said. "We have to be able to process them and have the training to do that properly as per health and safety.

"It's all coming together now. We've been banging on this door intensively for four or five years."

The chief said fishing methods and buyers are still being finalized, although the Rodd Miramichi Hotel has been on board for a while.

The community is also in talks with a Halifax sustainable fish company that's interested in purchasing, he said.

"We're looking to get that in place for a fall fishery, 11 said Ginnish.

Ginnish has said commercial bass fishing would create jobs for Natoaganeg members and alleviate concerns about skyrocketing striper

Last year, there were an estimated 994,000 bass spawners in the Miramichi River system -a longtime salmon hotbed. In contrast, roughly 26,900 salmon plied the river in 2017.

With the current commercial license, he said, Natoaganeg requested permission to harvest 50,000 fish.

Ginnish said he needs time to review the total the feds authorized.

"If we were allowed 25,000 fish in the spring and 25,000 in the fall, that would give us what we're looking for, 11 he said.

Many salmon officials say striped bass -known for their big appetites -are eating juvenile salmon before they reach the ocean. There have been calls for more aggressive measures, such as commercial fishing, to manage a bass population that's tripled since 2016.

The striper harvest announcement follows a news release and videos on social media shared by the Miramichi Salmon Association and lodge owners across the region saying salmon are in dire straits. But bass enthusiasts warn that a commercial fishery could plunder striper stocks and ruin the recreational fishery and its economic benefits.

Both salmon and bass are native to the Miramichi River. Their sport fisheries each bring millions of dollars in economic spin-offs to the region.

"We're very concerned about the number of bass in the river and how that's affecting our food fisheries, like salmon," said Ginnish. "It's detrimental to everything else in the river.

"It has hurt our rec fishery development, 11 he added. "[In the past], we haven't been able to develop the waterfront in our community."

The Miramichi Leader contacted Fisheries and Oceans for a comment and is awaiting a response.