Summary of salmon exploitation in Quebec in 2017
With its record-size salmon and magnificent rivers, Quebec offers exceptional fishing quality, to the delight of anglers in Quebec and elsewhere. To ensure the conservation and enhancement of Atlantic salmon from a sustainable development perspective, the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks (MFFP) rigorously monitors the abundance and exploitation of Atlantic salmon in the province.
Salmon populations are found in 109 rivers and 5 tributaries in Quebec. Since some of these rivers contain too few salmon to allow angling, angling is limited to about two-thirds of these rivers and tributaries, which are distributed among 11 salmon zones. Zones Q1 to Q4 are located south of the St. Lawrence and zones Q5 to Q9 are on the north shore. Anticosti Island is Q10 and Ungava is Q11. It should be noted that there are no salmon rivers in Q4 (Appalachian region).
Laws governing conservation and development of wildlife provides that the conservation of breeding fish must first be ensured before allowing exploitation according to the following allocation priority: fishing for food, ritual and social purposes, sport fishing and commercial fishing.
Given the widespread decline in salmon stocks in North America, the commercial salmon fishery was completely closed in Quebec in 2000. The resource is now shared between two user groups: Aboriginal people and sport fishermen.
2017 is part of the 2016-2026 Atlantic Salmon Management Plan. As described in the management plan report, new conservation thresholds make it possible to classify salmon populations according to three categories: the critical zone, the precautionary zone and the optimal zone.
Thus, instead of using a single threshold defining two categories as before, salmon management is now based on the use of three thresholds. The first two thresholds are specific to each river. This is the optimal conservation threshold and the demographic conservation threshold. Another conservation threshold is based on genetic considerations and remains fixed from one population to another. This is the genetic conservation threshold, which is set at 200 adult salmon per river. In addition to these conservation thresholds, a management target, located at an abundance level above the optimal conservation threshold, determines whether or not large salmon can be harvested.
The new regulations associated with the 2016-2026 Atlantic Salmon Management Plan include:
• The complete closure of the fishery or the restriction of salmon harvesting on rivers whose population is in critical condition.
• The mandatory release of large salmon at the beginning of the season on all rivers where salmon fishing is permitted, with the exception of rivers in Northern Quebec.
•Retention of large salmon as of August 1st in rivers with returns greater than the management target in the last five years. This modality applies only if abundance indicators for the current year can predict the achievement of the management target by the end of the fall.
•Mandatory release of all large salmon caught outside salmon rivers (for example, in the St. Lawrence River).
•Reducing the daily bag limit and possession limit to a maximum of two salmon per day (limit of one or two salmon, depending on the river).
•The application of a maximum daily number of three releases, with the exception of rivers in the Northern Quebec region and rivers to the east of the Natashquan River where there is no limit.
• Note: Exceptions may be applied to certain rivers following an analysis by a departmental expert panel that will consider conservation and enhancement issues.
As part of the production of the 2016-2026 Atlantic Salmon Management Plan, the Department also made two adjustments to the calculation of river egg deposition.
First, female fertility indices, the number of eggs produced per female based on her weight, have been updated. These have been taken into account in the data presented in the balance sheet.
In addition, the Department now applies a 7% mortality rate related to live release. Although live release is an effective method for the conservation of the species and the sustainability of sport fishing, it is important to consider a mortality rate to avoid overestimating the deposition of eggs in the river.
Although fishermen are encouraged to declare their releases, this practice is not subject to mandatory registration. The statistics available to the Department on this subject are obtained through the goodwill of the fishermen and the cooperation of salmon river managers in accounting for salmon. They therefore represent a minimum number of releases. The Department is also encouraging fishers to report releases for the sound management of the species and the development of a quality salmon fishery.
Of the 77 rivers and 5 tributaries where fishing was allowed in 2017, only the fishermen on the Natashquan, Moisie, Saint-Jean (North Shore) and Causapscal rivers and the 4 rivers of Northern Quebec were able to keep large salmon throughout the season.
The harvest of large salmon was allowed during the second part of the season on the following 11 rivers:
Matapédia, York, Dartmouth, Madeleine, Sainte-Anne, Cap-Chat, Matane, Gros Mécatina, Napetipi, Vieux-Fort and Saint -Paul.
The release of all salmon, big or small, was imposed on 8 rivers, namely the Malbaie (Gaspésie), Pigou, Au Bireau, Magpie, Coacoachou, Netagamiou, Petit Mecatina and Véco rivers. For the remaining 51 rivers and 4 tributaries, only the harvest of the grilse was allowed, requiring the release of all large salmon for the entire season.
In Quebec in 2017, 25,836 adult salmon were counted in the 38 salmon rivers for which counts were made. The total catch by sport fishery is 18,955 salmon and grilse, of which 13,364 released salmon (71%) and 5,591 salmon harvested. Of the salmon caught and kept, 3,705 were grilse (66%) and 1,886 were large salmon (34%). The average fishing success, adjusted to include releases, was 0.27 salmon per fishing day.
2017 is characterized by a slight 6% decrease in total returns, compared to the five-year average, while returns from grilse were 29% and salmon returns 9% higher. Consequently, the harvest of grilse in the sport fishery was 20% lower than the five-year average. The harvest of large salmon has decreased by 19%, largely due to the measures taken to protect large salmon. Releases have increased by 26%. The adjusted average fishing success including releases similar to the average of the last five years. In addition, salmon rivers recorded 69,295 fishing days. This is an increase from the five-year average (8%) and is the largest since the beginning of the data tracking in 1984, 1993 and 1994.
Comparing the data obtained since the implementation of the 2016-2026 Atlantic Salmon Management Plan (2016 and 2017) with the average of the previous five years (2011-2015) reveals that the new fishing regulations have contributed to reducing the harvest of large salmon by 34% keeping in mind that angling pressure was 7% higher.
Among the most significant regional trends, releases are respectively 15% and 13% higher than the average of the last five years in the region of Chaleur Bay (Q1) and the Gaspésie Peninsula ( Q2), while a marked decrease in sport catches of 37% and 43%, respectively, was observed. Poor fishing conditions, particularly river flow and temperature, may have had a negative impact on catches and, as a result, fishing successes.
However, river use in these two regions remained close to averages. Returns in these areas show a 30% decrease in grilse for Q1 and 42% reduction for Q2 and an increase in large salmon by 5% and 23%, respectively.
Similarly, even more marked trends are observed in Lower St-Laurence and on the north shore of the Gaspé Peninsula (Q3), with a decrease of 30% in sport catches, a 46% increase in releases and angling success adjusted lower by 17% than the average of the last five years. Meanwhile, angling pressure increased by 15% in this region, unlike the rest of Gaspésie. These fishing statistics are consistent with returns in this area.
In Quebec City (Q5), returns of grilse were down 32%, while large salmon were up 7% from the five-year average. Rivers in the region recorded an increase of angling pressure of 33%, while catches and releases were well below average.
In the Saguenay (Q6), returns are slightly higher than those observed on average in recent years and show an inter-river variation in 2017 in the distribution of small and large salmon. Regarding fishing statistics, the harvest of grilse and adjusted fishing success decreased by 47% and 4% respectively compared to the five-year average. Angling pressure is down in 2017, unlike other regions. Late runs and low water levels may have influenced this decline.
For the Upper North Shore (Q7), returns decreased 50% and 8% respectively for grilse and large salmon. Sport harvests show a significant decrease of 38%, especially for large salmon, because of the less permissive fishing regulations patterns in this region. Releases on the other hand, increased 46% from the five-year average, resulting in an increase in adjusted fishing success of 5%.
In the Middle North Shore (Q8), sport catches have been similar in the last five years, while releases have increased significantly by 77% and fishing success has increased by 28%.
On the Lower North Shore (Q9), the total returns observed in the Vieux-Fort River in 2017 are similar to the five-year average, while the return of the large salmon represents a 172%, the largest salmon run ever observed on this river. Sport catches in this area are 6% above the average of the last five years, despite the mandatory release of large salmon on several rivers.
On Anticosti Island (Q10), last season's sport catches are below average, and releases are down 44%. Nevertheless, returns have increased by 11%, which has contributed positively to egg deposition. In conclusion, the last season's fishing statistics in Northern Quebec (Q11) are all well above the five-year average, particularly for releases and harvest of grilse, boosting fishing success to an adjusted average of 2.56 salmon per day, the highest in the province. Angling pressure on northern rivers has been the largest since 1997, resulting in significant success.