The president of the Miramichi Salmon Association is hopeful a ban on keeping salmon caught in New Brunswick rivers will only be for this fishing season.

The mandatory catch-and-release policy for 2015 was announced Tuesday by Fisheries Minister Gail Shea.


Mark Hambrook hopes salmon anglers will be allowed to keep fish caught in New Brunswick rivers once again next year. (Miramichi Salmon Association)

​Mark Hambrook of the Miramichi Salmon Association welcomes the measure and hopes to see the blanket ban on keeping salmon lifted in 2016 in favour of a management regime used in Newfoundland and Labrador where different rules apply to different rivers, based on the abundance of salmon.

"We really like the model that's used over there," said Hambrook. "They colour-code the rivers."

"In a green river you can use all of your tags, but if you are in a yellow or a red river you can only use fewer tags."

"We need to do that with rivers in New Brunswick so that when we do open it up for harvesting, we can direct anglers to the most abundance populations. And some of the rivers that are weaker, we can't harvest as many fish out of."

"We're hoping that within a year, DFO will come out with this new management regime and that anglers should be able to catch fish next year."

The new conservation measure comes on the heels of historic low numbers for salmon returns to the Miramichi river. Last year, the number of salmon returning to the Miramichi was about 12,000. In the 1990s, the number of fish returning to spawn was about 82,000.

"With the runs as bad as they are today, it's just really hard to justify killing fish when there is not enough there to repopulate the population," said Hambrook.

The reason behind the decline in the number of salmon returning to the Miramichi to spawn is not known, but Hambrook believes it's because of something happening to the salmon when they are at sea.

'Angling isn't the core issue, but when you are down to this few fish, we can't kill the last ones' - Mark Hambrook, president Miramichi Salmon Association

"Angling isn't the core issue, but when you are down to this few fish, we can't kill the last ones. We have to let them go to spawn."

Hambrook says Atlantic salmon that would be returning to Maritime rivers are caught off Greenland and Saint Pierre and Miquelon, as well as by an Inuit fishery off Labrador.

Hambrook notes that while rivers in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence region saw low returns in 2014, the returns to northern Newfoundland and Labrador were stronger.

"When we look at what is the difference there and here, it's the grey seal population," said Hambrook. "We definitely suspect seals as one of the major problems."

The grey seal population in the southern gulf has grown from 2,000 animals to more than 100,000 seals today.

"There is a Senate fisheries committee report that was released two years ago saying that as long as this population remains at the level it's at, there will never be a recovery of Atlantic cod and most other groundfish in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

"These animals are keeping the whole eco-system pushed down."

Another factor affecting the Miramichi is striped bass are returning to the Miramichi to spawn in the spring at the same time as salmon smolts are migrating to the ocean, said Hambrook.

"These striped bass bass are mostly eating smelts and other things but are also eating salmon smolts as well and may be another contributor."​