The number of North American wild Atlantic salmon has dropped for the second-straight year, with only 496,000 salmon successfully spawning in all continental rivers last year.
That figure is well below minimum conservation limits in some areas, according to the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF).
“Overall, we are struggling to restore North American wild Atlantic salmon populations to sustainable levels,” said ASF president Bill Taylor.
“Although there are some bright spots, areas where we are seeing the result of wise management, we must remain concerned about the suite of threats affecting oceans and rivers.”
The decline is sitting about about 15 per cent in 2017 compared to the year before.
In the Miramichi River, the striped bass may be to blame. In the 1990s, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) undertook a conservation project in an effort to rebuild bass numbers. Decades later, there’s upwards of a million spawning.
“We now have a situation where things are out of balance, salmon are needing some help, the striped bass are taking off and they’re having an affect on other fish in that river system,” explains ASF spokesperson Neville Crabbe.
Salmon are spawning in the Miramichi, but the smolts are struggling. They’re only about 12 inches when they make their way to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the issue at hand is there’s so many bass in the river that during that voyage, those smolts either make it or are eaten along the way.
But scientists say the stripers aren’t only to blame.
“A lot are going to die at all stages at life and the indications are pointing that the issues are actually out in the ocean,” says Paul Chamberland, who researches salmon with DFO.
Anglers would like to see DFO up the limit of bass you can catch and possess from three.
“If you’re fishing fly for salmon and you hook a bass, you should be able to keep it,” says Brock Curtis, a fishing guide based in Blackville N.B.
OVer the last few years, DFO has doubled the season and tripled the retention for bass.
In the meantime, the salmon federation says it’s inked an agreement with fishermen in Greenland to limit their catches of adult fish from Canada and Europe.