Wild Salmon Facing Upstream Battle


Wild salmon facing upstream battle

Josh Pennell
Published on April 24, 2015

What began as a response to the frighteningly low numbers of salmon in the Miramichi River has become an advisory committee to look at salmon issues in all four Atlantic provinces.

The advisory committee is made up of members with expertise in salmon issues and has representatives from the four Atlantic provinces, as well as Quebec.

The Advisory Committee on Atlantic Salmon was struck earlier this year and has held meetings throughout Atlantic Canada. It was in St. John’s on Thursday.

“Basically we’re hearing advice and recommendations and issues from the key stakeholders and persons who are very much involved in Atlantic salmon,” says Greg Roach, chairman of the committee.

Untangling the issue of why salmon numbers are declining is a complex undertaking. Roach names conservation, predation, low river returns, climate change and the international harvest as issues that need to be considered.

Then there’s the fact salmon have a life cycle that takes them through two very different habitats — fresh and salt water.

“It is very complex. When salmon go to sea it’s like the black hole. What happens from the time they leave until the time they come back?” Roach says.

Plunging salmon numbers are more of a concern in the Maritimes, but there are areas in this province that need consideration, particularly the south coast.

”Whether it’s international fisheries that are intercepting some of them, whether it’s change in habitat, change in environmental conditions, maybe change in predation, these are all factors that need to be sorted out,” Roach says.

Oisin McMahon, the owner of Blue Charm Angling on Waterford Bridge Road in St. John’s, says fish farming is a direct threat to wild salmon stocks and there is such aquaculture being practised on the south coast.

“Fish farming and wild salmon stocks do not mix well together. You can go look in Europe. You go look in Scotland, England, Ireland and Norway. All of their stocks have declined once you introduce large-scale aquaculture projects,” McMahon says.

Infectious salmon anemia is spread to wild stocks by farmed stocks, he says. That’s an opinion strongly disputed by fish farm owners.

McMahon, an avid angler as well as a shop owner, also sees the time salmon spend at sea as a mystery with an answer that is a hard one to land.

“The one nobody can figure out, in my mind, is mortality at sea because you can’t see the problem so there’s no real way to get a handle on what’s going on.”

That issue and the others that get raised at the meetings with the advisory committee will be taken to the federal government as areas that need to be investigated. Complex or not, the idea is for science to take them on.