The world-famous Miramichi River is experiencing a salmon decline that "is among the worst in recorded history."
New numbers released by the Miramichi Salmon Association and the Atlantic Salmon Federation put the number of salmon returning to the river this year at about 12,000, despite near perfect angling conditions.
That number is about half of the 23,000 that returned to the river to spawn from 2011 through 2013.
"These are frightening numbers," said David Wilson, chairman of the Miramichi Salmon Association.
In the first decade of this century, about 53,000 salmon returned to the river annually. The average number of salmon returns in the 1990s was about 82,000.
It is estimated that 20 to 25 per cent of all Atlantic salmon returning to North American rivers to spawn each year return to the Miramichi.
Mark Hambrook, the president of the MSA, calls it "a crisis."
"This year has been a dismal year for salmon returns to the Miramichi and basically throughout all of Atlantic Canada," said Hambrook. "And it seems that the further south the river, the worse the runs are.
"The Miramichi is not going to meet its spawning requirements this year, so we're in a bit of a crisis," he said. "Pools that will normally have 300, 400 fish in it, now have 50 or 60."
The salmon groups say many wild salmon runs throughout Quebec and Atlantic Canada are experiencing the same "serious situation."
'These are frightening numbers.' - David Wilson, chairman of Miramichi Salmon Association
At the annual MSA dinner in Fredericton on Tuesday, the salmon groups made a public plea for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to appoint a multi-disciplinary task force to create a wild Atlantic salmon action plan.
Atlantic Salmon Federation president Bill Taylor stressed there are immediate actions that should be taken.
"Some people will argue that the matter need further study or that there are issues at play that are beyond our control such as poor sea survival and climate change," said Taylor. "While that may be true, there is ample evidence and data currently available upon which a strong and effective action plan can be based."
Taylor said the downturn in salmon numbers threatens the $40-million value of the recreational salmon fishery to the New Brunswick economy.
Fishing camp owner Debbie Norton is among those who wants action from government.
"We want a comprehensive management plan and stop being the little Dutch boy trying to plug the hole in the dike with one finger at a time."