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Large Atlantic salmon populations in North America see historic lows, report says

Click to play video 'New report casting doubt on future of wild Atlantic salmon in North America' New report casting doubt on future of wild Atlantic salmon in North America
WATCH: A group advocating for the conservation of wild Atlantic salmon says the number of adult salmon returning to North America rivers fell to near historic lows last year. Tim Roszell has more. – Jun 25, 2020

A new report suggests the future of wild Atlantic salmon is in question in North America.

In the State of Wild Atlantic Salmon Report, the Atlantic Salmon Federation said the numbers of large Atlantic salmon returning to North American rivers were among the lowest in 49 years of data collection.

It believes 103,900 salmon returned in 2019, the third-lowest figure recorded. By comparison, nearly 132,000 returned in 2018.

Read more: Numbers of large wild Atlantic salmon dipped to near historic lows in 2019

Neville Crabbe, executive director of communications for the Atlantic Salmon Federation, said the numbers are part of a lengthy downward trend and were not a surprise.

He said river ecosystems are being altered by climate change.

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“Looking at what’s happening to salmon is a way of judging how well we’re doing as stewards of the environment,” Crabbe said.

“And if this report today is any indication, we’re certainly not doing as well as we could be.”

Click to play video 'Federal fisheries says it will now test farm salmon for viruses' Federal fisheries says it will now test farm salmon for viruses
Federal fisheries says it will now test farm salmon for viruses – Jun 5, 2019

Crabbe said federal and provincial governments have not done enough to reverse the trend, though he said they cannot do it alone. He said non-government organizations, like his, need to be involved in a collaborative effort.

That feeling is shared by the Miramichi Salmon Federation.

President Mark Hambrook said it seems like every step forward results in another one back, and said COVID-19 will set back any recovery even more.

In his region, Hambrook said the big issues are an overabundance of predators of salmon, like grey seals and striped bass. He said those have to be addressed soon.

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“In the meantime, as our (salmon) stocks keep going down and down, we have to be able to support the fish in the river,” Hambrook said. “We have to be able to supplement to hold the population while we address these other issues.”

Read more: Mitsubishi subsidiary hopes to build salmon farms in Nova Scotia

Salmon Lodge operators around Miramchi are concerned about the future of fishing tourism.

“We’re diversifying like a lot of the lodges are,” said Andrew Anthony, who runs Ledges Inn in Doaktown. “But unfortunately, I don’t think we can diversify enough to cover what this is — the loss of Atlantic Salmon to this Miramichi reigon — (and) what it’s going to do to us.

“So, you know, it’s a scary time.”

“If nothing is done, I think that our children, and likely you and I, would witness the extirpation of wild Atlantic salmon from much of their southern extent,” Crabbe said.

Crabbe believes the 2020 numbers will be better, but he said they are likely a one-off in what he calls a generational decline.