Reactions to Bass Commercial Harvest Divided


27 July 2018

Nathan DeLong

Reactions to newly approved commercial fishery divided

Reactions to a newly approved commercial striped bass fishery for a New Brunswick indigenous community are mixed, with salmon officials applauding the move and bass enthusiasts raising questions.

Natoaganeg First Nation, west of Miramichi,  got the go-ahead from Fisheries and Oceans Canada for a limited striper fishing enterprise on the Northwest Miramichi River in the last week.

Members of the wild Atlantic salmon community have been sounding alarm bells in recent years about the bass population’s rapid growth in the Miramichi system and its impacts on endangered salmon.

For Miramichi Salmon Association president Mark Hambrook, news about the commercial fishery was music to his ears.

“This is what we want to see,” Ham-brook said Tuesday.“It’s wonderful for [Natoaganeg].”

Hambrook and several others have said salmon stocks are facing a crisis, as 26,900 of them returned to the Miramichi River watershed from sea in 2017.

While the Miramichi branches have regularly fallen short of annual spawning targets for sustaining the species, the bass presence has flourished. A reported 994,000 striper spawners plied the river last year - up from more than 300,000 in 2016.

Both salmon and bass are native to the Miramichi watershed, but salmon groups have said stripers - who are known for their large appetites - have eaten many juvenile salmon before they swim to sea.

Hambrook and George Ginnish, Natoaganeg chief and band manager, have said harvesting bass commercially would create jobs and mitigate stripers’ impacts on salmon - a traditional food source for First Nations people.

Hambrook said Metepenagiag (Red Bank) and Esgenoopetitj (Burnt Church) First Nations could also benefit from reeling in bass to sell.

“They would make great candidates for this,” he said.“They all could have a commercial fishery.”

Many say the traditional Miramichi River salmon fishery has suffered from declining stocks and strict hook-and-release rules from Fisheries and Oceans in recent years, but booming bass populations have led to an increasingly popular recreational sector in the city.

Jeff Wilson, co-promoter of the annual Miramichi Striper Cup tournament, worries that could disappear if a commercial bass harvest proceeds.

Wilson and Trevor Avery, a marine biologist at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., have cautioned against reducing one species in the Miramichi River in effort to save another.

“There’s some room for a sustainable harvest - as long as it’s not when they’re all spawning,” Wilson said, adding that a fall commercial fishery would work better for stripers than a harvest near their spring reproductive cycle.

“So far this year, it doesn’t look like the spawn was successful with the way the water levels dropped [after the five-day spawn period closure in June] and temperatures went up.”