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N.B. senator joins colleagues in calls for salmon action (anglais seulement)

Adam Huras
Telegraph Journal


Another New Brunswick senator has called for more action from the federal government to address dwindling wild Atlantic salmon populations.

Conservative Sen. Paul McIntyre from Charlo, southeast of Campbellton, said on Nov. 22 he supports the red chamber's inquiry into the plight of salmon and their spawning grounds launched last month by independent Sen. David Adams Richards, a Miramichi native, author and avid fisherman. 

In his Senate speech, McIntyre raised concerns about issues facing salmon in the Miramichi and Restigouche River systems, including the "decimation" of their spawning areas.

"The continued decline of wild Atlantic salmon populations in Eastern Canada is alarming," said McIntyre, a lawyer who grew up near the Restigouche.

McIntyre is the latest New Brunswick senator to pressure the feds on salmon action.

His speech follows Richards serving a notice of inquiry in the Senate early last month asking why more hasn't been done to protect salmon, which are emblazoned on New Brunswick's coat of arms.

Conservative Sen. Percy Mockler, a Saint-Léonard native, has supported that effort.

"We must intervene now in order to stop and reverse the downward spiral of what's happening to two of the most beautiful rivers in the world [the Restigouche and the Miramichi]," said Mockler, a former Tory MLA and provincial cabinet minister.

Many other salmon officials have also sounded alarm bells on declining stocks and the stark contrast between salmon and predatory fish populations, such as striped bass.

Both species are native to the Miramichi watershed, but an estimated 994,000 bass spawners plied the river last year – three times the number that returned in 2016.

There were roughly 27,000 salmon in the river in 2017.

Stripers are known for their large appetites and are said to be eating many salmon smolts, or juvenile fish, before they reach the ocean.

Seventeen lodge owners wrote a letter over the summer calling on Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson to do more about booming bass populations affecting salmon and their livelihoods.

Recreational salmon angling has long been a favourite pastime and an economic lifeblood in many small communities across the Miramichi region, although sport fishing for bass has gained popularity in the city in recent years.

Miramichi salmon returns have consistently missed critical spawning targets, or the number required to sustain the population.

The Southwest Miramichi River met or surpassed its minimum benchmark three times in the last 10 years, while the Northwest branch achieved it once during the same span.

"They are now a fraction of what they were in 1990s and scientists are not entirely sure why," said McIntyre. "Several factors affecting the health of the salmon resource are freshwater habitat quality, climate change, the marine environment and Greenland’s commercial harvest.

"Issues such as predation and open-net pen salmon aquaculture also represent important factors to consider in certain areas."

In the Restigouche River, salmon returns reached 70 per cent of conservation requirements in 2017.

The river's New Brunswick portion reached or exceeded that goal for six years in the last decade.

All the province's salmon rivers had strict hook-and-release rules for recreational fishing this season, with the Miramichi being subject to those regulations for four straight years.

McIntyre said initiatives aimed at stopping salmon stock declines include the Atlantic Salmon Federation's 12-year conservation deal with the North Atlantic Salmon Fund and commercial fishermen in Greenland.

Better scientific collaboration and data-sharing between Fisheries and Oceans, Indigenous communities, environmental and conservation groups and academic institutions would also be a good step forward, he said.

As well, Fisheries and Oceans increased daily bass bag limits and retention limits to three fish for the 2018 season.

Speaking in front of a Senate committee earlier this month, Wilkinson said his department understands the severity of the salmon situation and is working to restore populations in eastern Canada.

"Our research shows that, although striped bass are predators of Atlantic salmon smolts, they are not the main cause of the current decline of the population," said Wilkinson.

"But it's important we are addressing all of those issues on an ongoing basis."

McIntyre said Wilkinson recently announced a five-year plan of "concrete actions" for wild Pacific salmon populations and their habitats. The senator said he wants the same for Atlantic salmon.