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Atlantic Salmon Runs and Research in PEI
by Atlantic Salmon Federation on 

By Scott Roloson, President, Prince Edward Island Salmon Council

Last fall anglers on scheduled salmon rivers in Prince Edward Island  enjoyed some of the strongest returns in years, with several reporting days where multiple salmon were caught and released.

Much of this can be accredited to a very successful stocking program run by the Abegweit Conservation Society and the provincial government. In this program, wild broodstock are collected in the fall, spawned and returned to the wild. After hatching in captivity, the salmon fry are stocked back into rivers to grow in a wild setting.

This method circumvents the low hatching success that is believed to limit juvenile production in many rivers. The program has experienced several years of success and anglers are looking forward to the coming years when many of these salmon will return to PEI rivers.

Another exciting salmon conservation success is unfolding in PEI rivers in the province’s very northeast corner.

Following a recent genetic study, it was suggested that some unstocked rivers may still retain the original genetic signature found prior to human colonization. This speculation has been the impetus for a new research project investigating the genetic composition of all PEI salmon rivers and the life history of salmon found in these unstocked rivers.

The research project included a fall salmon trap in North Lake Creek, accompanied by an adult tagging program to investigate movement patterns during spawning.

Employees from Souris Area Branch of PEI Wildlife Federation, Abegweit Conservation Society and Carissa Grove, MSc Candidate CRI-UPEI (holding fish).

Adult salmon were tagged under the skin with a small PIT tag and movements were monitored by network of detection stations. In addition to looking at movements within North Lake Creek, arrays were set up in neighboring rivers. In an era of widespread declines of salmon populations, there is a theory that geographic regions function as interconnected populations and that these clusters are an important source of resiliency.

Gaining a better understanding of the movement of individuals and genetic structure of these salmon populations will enhance the information available for future management and regulatory decisions.

Salmon conservation success on PEI would not be possible without the unwavering commitment people working in grassroots watershed restoration.

Fundraising Reception Coming Up

On Wednesday March 28th, the PEI Council of the ASF is hosting its annual fundraising reception.

This event is a celebration of Atlantic salmon on PEI and a chance for everyone to show their support for those involved in salmon conservation on PEI. Funds raised at the event will help the ASF support important research and conservation priorities in PEI salmon rivers.

Important contributions to the aforementioned salmon successes have been made the following groups: Abegweit Biodiversity Enhancement Hatchery, Communities Land and Environment (Gov’t of PEI), Canadian Rivers Institute (UPEI), Abegweit Consevation Society, Souris and Area Branch of PEI Wildlife Federation, Morell River Management Cooperative, Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation, Atlantic Salmon Federation, PEI Wildlife Conservation Fund, and Aboriginal Fund For Species At Risk (DFO).

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Changes to salmon angling regulations in Quebec in place for 2018
by Atlantic Salmon Federation on 

Charles Cusson, ASF Director of Quebec Programs

The Quebec and Federal governments have acted in the interest of wild Atlantic salmon.  As recommended by FQSA during consultations prior to the 2016-2026 Atlantic salmon management plan was implemented, the following changes are now in force:

  • The seasonal harvest license is reduced to four (4) tags; (1) large salmon and (3) grilse.  Northern Quebec management zones 23 and 24 are exempt where it will be legal to harvest (4) four fish regardless of size

  • The one (1) day license has been modified to become a (3) three-day license. It comes with 1 grilse tag

  • Where it is permitted in Quebec, a harvested salmon must be tagged taken from the angler’s permit who hooked the fish

  • Anglers “must use services” provided by an outfitter – it is now mandatory in salmon management zones 23 and 24 when angling for Atlantic salmon

Releasing a large male Atlantic salmon on the Cascapedia River in September. Photo Ben Carmichael

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Will we row the same direction or sink?
by Atlantic Salmon Federation on 

Don Ivany, ASF Director of Programs for Newfoundland and Labrador

People are passionate about Atlantic salmon, and a debate is on in Newfoundland and Labrador about the shape of the 2018 angling season.

Salmon angling for Newfoundlanders is part of the culture, and with due care for the health of the runs, will be long into the future. Don Ivany and Steve Sutton on the Main River in NL. Photo Geoff Giffin/ASF

Halfway through 2017 the monitored rivers in Newfoundland and southern Labrador were showing declines the likes of which have never been experienced in the province. DFO’s science branch raised the alarm that the recreational fishery was no longer sustainable, and by August managers closed retention angling for the rest of the season and until there are signs of a recovery. Live release angling was allowed to continue. 

Atlantic salmon runs were greatly depressed in 2017. Photo: Big East River, Tom Moffatt/ASF

Groups led by the Citizens Outdoor Rights Alliance (CORA) are now arguing the retention closure was a knee jerk reaction and not justified. To start this season the CORA board is advocating for  maximum retention, unchanged from the start of 2017. They have threatened civil disobedience if they don’t get it.

ASF has a different position on things.

CORA recently hosted a public meeting in Corner Brook to push their recommendation and demonstrate public support. I was there on behalf of ASF along with about 60 other people, some supportive of CORA and some not. Local groups like the Salmon Preservation Association for the Waters of Newfoundland (SPAWN) had a presence as well.  My goal was to hear what others had to say and explain ASF’s position which is rooted in science and the best assessment data available.

The guest speaker was Provincial Minister of Fisheries and Land Resources, the Honourable Gerry Byrne. In a  letter to the editor published that morning in Newfoundland’s paper of record, The St. John’s Telegram, ASF questioned Byrne’s presence at the meeting and challenged the minister on his government’s lack of involvement on recreational fishing issues.

Not surprisingly, Minister Byrne had some not so nice words about ASF and demonstrated he’s firmly behind a retention fishery. Then the floor was opened to questions and comments from those in attendance. 

Some said DFO’s fish way counts from 2017 got it wrong – early season ice meant late runs, after the counting fences were removed. This is CORA’s opinion too. DFO refused an invite to the meeting, so people didn’t get an update on the latest assessment data.

Having attended DFO’s Salmonid Advisory Committee working group meeting in Gander last fall, where the stock status report was presented, I relayed what I learned to the crowd.

According to DFO’s scientific data, in 2015, 50% of the monitored index rivers in the province did not meet minimum conservation requirements.  In 2016 more than 50% of the monitored rivers saw declines of 30% from the previous five-year average. Then there was a further 38% average decline on all monitored rivers in 2017.  This is more than the usual year to year fluctuations. Something bad is going on.

Comparison of salmon numbers between 2017 and the year before. Note that Rocky River had no fishway during the 2016 season due to replacement construction occurring. All data from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

According to DFO, they have not seen such significant declines since they started collecting data on NL rivers back in the 1970s.  Some questioned these figures and pointed out DFO only monitors 15 of 200 rivers.  I agree, but we can’t hang our hats on anecdotes, we must use the best information that we have and take a precautionary approach.

Hence ASF’s advice to DFO is that the 2018 recreational fishery should open for catch and release angling until a mid-season review is conducted. If there are signs of a recovery at that point, DFO could reinstate a small, well-managed retention fishery.

Others at the meeting questioned the merits of live release and preferred a total closure for the season if returns were so low. Others countered the idea of a full closure, saying it would pull the rug out from underneath outfitters and guides that have built up businesses in rural and remote areas. Others yet complained the whole argument is just driving a wedge between anglers.

Gratefully, the debate about population counts and how the recreational fishery should start in 2018 were the only real contentious issues discussed at the meeting. It soon became clear that people had much more in common, including shared concerns and shared goals. All agreed that we need better assessment, more scientific research, beefed up enforcement programs, and way better regulations to protect against the threats of open net-pen salmon aquaculture.

Most importantly, there was a common call for DFO to broaden public consultation and present their science data to the public in forums where people can attend, ask questions, and give input where it’s needed.

We all agreed that Atlantic salmon are so important we need to act. The pure love of fishing and the opportunity for all to do so is a central part of our culture, not to mention that wild Atlantic salmon are important to the environment and economy of Newfoundland. Hopefully, in these uncertain times, people walk away from the meeting asking themselves what is the best thing to do for salmon, not the other way around.

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DFO gives final numbers for 2017 Restigouche, Miramichi returns
by Atlantic Salmon Federation on 

Nathan Wilbur, ASF Director of New Brunswick Programs

Each winter, salmon anglers and conservation groups eagerly await the release of DFO’s adult salmon counts from the previous season. They tell us if populations are increasing or decreasing, and if they are sustainable relative to their minimum conservation egg requirements. For the Miramichi and Restigouche river systems in New Brunswick, the 2017 numbers are in. There’s some good news and bad, cause for optimism and caution, and like all things Atlantic salmon there’s some explaining to do.

The Miramichi River system, which drains about 25 per cent of central and eastern New Brunswick, has two main branches, the Southwest and Northwest. In order to assess adult returns on such a large system, DFO uses the ‘mark and recapture’ method. Trap nets are placed in the estuary of both branches, capturing a portion of returning adults entering from the sea. Once tagged, those salmon are released to head up river alongside fish that avoided the trap net.

Dungarvon counting facility that assists calculations for the SW Miramichi. Photo Nathan Wilbur/ASF

Along the way, tagged and untagged salmon are counted at assessment sites upriver, and by seining certain pools in the fall. In basic terms, by determining the proportion of tagged to untagged salmon, scientists estimate the percentage of fish caught in the trap nets and use that value to calculate an estimate of the total run.

Because 2017 was a low water year, fish spent more time milling around the estuary and were therefore caught more frequently in the trap nets – but this is accounted for in the final estimates. For all the details, check out the link to DFO’s full scientific assessment of the Miramichi at the end of this post.

Here are the highlights - In 2017 the total number of fish returning to the Miramichi system was estimated to be 14,600 large salmon and 13,300 grilse.  These returns are down from 2016 and the trends for both salmon and grilse show a 25 per cent decrease over the  last 12 years. This timeframe represents about two generations of Atlantic salmon.

Each branch has its own run of salmon, so there are yearly differences between the Northwest and Southwest Miramichi rivers. The Southwest branch had 10,700 large salmon and 8,100 grilse returns. There has been a 34 per cent decrease over the last 12 years for salmon and a 73 per cent decrease for grilse. The Northwest Miramichi had 3,800 large salmon and 5,000 grilse returns. While grilse have decreased 35 per cent, large salmon are showing an increasing trend on the Northwest and are up 20 per cent over the 12 year period, a good sign for egg deposition.

Overall, the Miramichi did not meet its minimum conservation egg requirement in 2017.  After determining how many eggs  entered the river in returning adults, and subtracting 2 per cent for removals by the aboriginal food, social, and ceremonial fishery, combined with mortality associated with live release angling, the Miramichi system reached 76 per cent of its minimum egg deposition requirement (83 per cent on the Southwest, 60 per cent on the Northwest). This minimum threshold is defined as 2.4 eggs per square metre of habitat. Below that level the population is at risk of not being able to sustain itself.

The beauty and serenity of casting on the Dungarvon River. Photo Nathan Wilbur/ASF

New counting methods are being tested on the Miramichi through the Collaboration for Atlantic Salmon Tomorrow. Researchers from the University of New Brunswick are using sonar cameras to count adult returns and it’s showing some early promise. There are advantages over the trap net method, like being able to count every fish and the ability to deploy cameras earlier and take them out later. For example, in 2017 a sonar camera on the Little Southwest Miramichi showed a good run of ‘salmon-sized fish’ (the camera can’t tell species – yet) moving upstream in late October and early November after the trap net had been removed. 

The story of last season is brighter for the Restigouche. The river’s uniquely  clear water allows for visual salmon counts, and combined with low water, assessment conditions were excellent last September when DFO carried out their snorkel surveys. The results will be published in February by DFO, but were released at meetings in Campbellton this week. The Restigouche system, excluding the Matapedia River tributary, had 2,461 grilse and 7,603 large salmonspawners. This count can be considered a minimum because it is the number of fish actually counted in the river prior to spawning. The count excludes salmon that were already removed in the aboriginal fisheries and mortality associated with live release.

Overall, the Restigouche system, excluding the Matapedia, attained 134 per cent of its minimum conservation requirement, which is defined as 1.68 eggs deposited per square metre of habitat. Note that this is lower than the conservation requirement for the Miramichi and other Gulf region rivers, so we are not comparing apples to apples. To provide some perspective, if we did use 2.4 eggs per square metre, the Restigouche would have achieved 94 per cent of its minimum conservation requirement.

DFO snorkel counts for each of the four main tributaries they assess, and the main stem of the Restigouche River, are as follows:

Numbers were much higher for the main stem because the count was conducted in September when many fish would have been staging in the bigger water prior to heading up tributaries to spawn in October. A good example is the Patapedia. It shows only 39 per cent of its conservation requirement achieved, but we know from previous years that counts conducted later in the season closer to spawning show higher numbers. In 2017, a mid-October count by Quebec’s Ministre des Forets, Faune et Parcs (MFFP) shows the Patapedia actually achieved 101 per cent.

Overall, the number of large salmon spawning in the Restigouche was a 20-year high. However, anglers may not have noticed because of poor fishing conditions for most of the season. Despite more fish in the system, New Brunswick Crown Reserve angling information for the Restigouche system shows catch per rod day decreased in 2017 by 11 per cent compared to the previous 5 year average.

Releasing a beautiful Atlantic salmon in the Kedgwick River where the egg deposition met the Conservation Limit. Photo Tommy Larocque

Assessments on the Quebec side of the Restigouche watershed conducted by MFFP show the Matapedia had an estimated 1830 large salmon returns (213 of these were harvested) and 440 grilse (358 harvested), resulting in egg deposition of 12.35 million eggs, or 119 per cent of its minimum egg requirement. Once again, the Quebec threshold is defined differently than those used in the New Brunswick portion of the Resitgouche and the Miramichi, but that’s another story.   

Why was 2017 such a good year for the Restigouche system? A probable explanation is the ripple effect of 2011, which also had excellent adult returns. Considering that most Restigouche smolt go to sea when they are three years old, the large two sea-winter salmon returning in 2017 would have been eggs in the gravel in the fall of 2011, and there were a lot of them. 

DFO Science reports on the Miramichi River, 2017:



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Atlantic Salmon Ecosystems Forum
by Atlantic Salmon Federation on 

by Nathan Wilbur, ASF Director of New Brunswick Programs

Last week in Orono, Maine, members of the conservation community gathered for the bi-annual Atlantic Salmon Ecosystems Forum. Science, community engagement, infrastructure planning, habitat restoration, fish passage, and drone technology to map rivers were all up for discussion. The speakers came from both sides of the border and included university researchers, Masters and PhD students, NGOs like ASF, and government representatives.

There was a lot of focus on the Penobscot, which runs through Orono, and the progress that has been made since the Penobscot River Restoration Project kicked off in the early 2000s. Dam removal, engineered channels, and other improvements have opened up long-blocked headwater habitat to migratory fish.

But one presentation really resonated with the audience. It was delivered by Stephen Gephard on the top ten reasons why the Connecticut River Atlantic salmon restoration failed. The message connected with the audience, empathetic and aware that similar missteps could doom recovery efforts in Maine and further north in Atlantic Canada.

Stephen Gephard on the banks of a New England River

Gephard listed the following reasons:

10) Non-native fish establishment
 9) Put and take trout fishery (heavy angling pressure during smolt run and incidental catch)
 8) Impacts of hatchery program
 7) Loss of institutional capacity and passion
 6) Loss of coastal fish communities (alewife, smelt, shad, etc.)
 5) Degraded freshwater habitat (Connecticut has highest density of dams on a salmon river)
 4) Impact of hydro dams
 3) Loss of native strains
 2) Reduced marine survival
 1) Climate change (higher temperatures, more dynamic winters, mismatch between spring freshet and smolt run timing, longest marine migration and sensitive to coastal changes)

While the top three reasons are largely beyond our control as salmon conservationists, the others are within grasp. Stephen put emphasis on #7, because without community and political will, the future for salmon would not be bright.

Keeping salmon issues in the public eye and on political agendas is critical. That’s where organizations like ASF, regional salmon councils, and your local watershed groups play a vital role, in addition to research and on-the-ground restoration work. 
People too often remember failures, but there are remarkable success stories in salmon restoration as well. One that comes to mind is the acid rain mitigation project on the West River Sheet Harbour in Nova Scotia’s southern uplands.

Dr. Eddie Halfyard delivered a presentation demonstrating how the Nova Scotia Salmon Association is making significant progress reversing the long-term effects of acid rain which crippled rivers along the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia. With the installation of a lime doser, using helicopters to dump more lime throughout the watershed, and close monitoring of habitat conditions and salmon response, Dr. Halfyard illustrated tremendous results.

Dr. Edmund Halfyard explains the complex acid rain mitigation project taking place on Nova Scotia's West River - Sheet Harbour. Photo ASF Research

The river has transitioned from being essentially dead, to now producing approximately 10,000 wild smolts migrating to sea each spring. That – with only a small portion of the river system having habitable pH conditions on account of the lime doser.

With the recent addition of a second lime doser, physical habitat enhancement work, and watershed liming, the majority of the system is expected to become productive for salmon. This is a project to keep our eyes on over the coming years.

There has already been talk of the next conference, but we may not have to wait another two years. DFO presented the idea of holding a salmon forum in Canada in alternate years, beginning in 2019. ASF looks forward to the opportunity to share and learn from what others are doing in the sometimes puzzling effort to understand Atlantic salmon.   

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