Editorial: We must figure out what’s happening to salmon population
Perhaps the most vital, and definitely the most celebrated, of the Miramichi’s natural resources is under threat. The King of Sport Fish, the Atlantic salmon is not only synonymous with this region, it pumps millions into the region’s economy and provides valuable jobs in a legendary hospitality sector up and down the river.
That’s the good news. The bad news – there was an alarming nosedive in its annual count in 2012.
A federal fisheries department report, released this month, showed neither section of the Miramichi met its spawning requirements. The number of grilse returning to the Miramichi last year was the lowest recorded since biologists began monitoring it many, many years ago.
The number of adult salmon wasn’t much better. An estimated 13,600 large salmon, with a minimum fork length of 63 centimetres, and about 8,000 of the smaller grilse returned to their Miramichi spawning grounds.
Some perspective here is helpful, and disturbing, says one of the people who knew right away what those number represent.
“It’s the worst run of grilse the Miramichi has ever had since we’ve starting counting the numbers,” said Mark Hambrook, president of the Miramichi Salmon Association.
Even more disturbing, we’re not alone. Shocking might be another word to use.
The number of large salmon recorded at a series of monitoring stations along both of the Miramichi’s main branches in 2012 were down anywhere from 25 per cent to 59 per cent when compared with 2011, with small salmon down even more - about 75 per cent fewer recorded than a year ago.
The numbers are a shock in part because the sudden reduction comes on the heels of a strong return in 2011, which followed a couple of years of mediocre numbers.
“Returns of small salmon to the Miramichi River in 2012 were low and followed on the near record-high returns observed in 2011,” the department report said. “Returns of large salmon in 2012 also decreased relative to 2011, but much less than for those of small salmon.”
The next, bland, sentence understates the obvious.
“Conservation requirements for the Miramichi River were not attained in 2012.”
Large salmon returns, estimated at just over 1,600, along the Northwest Miramichi River watershed were down roughly 50 per cent, with small salmon, at roughly 2,500, plummeting by 80 per cent over 2011 and by 70 per cent when painted against figures from the last five years. On the Southwest Miramichi, large salmon (10,700) were down by 58 per cent this year, with small salmon (5,300) down 83 per cent, or, 73 per cent below the average of returns recorded over the last five years.
The presence of predatory striped bass, a growing commercial fishery in Greenland and unknown ecological conditions have all been blamed. But nobody knows what’s happening for sure.
We believe it’s time for all stakeholders to come together and pool resources to finally commit to figuring this out. Nothing short of a full-court press effort will do. The future of not only the Miramichi River salmon, but also the Restigouche River and Bay of Fundy salmon, depends on it.