The New Brunswick Salmon Council says junior salmon, called grilse, are key to the population health of the species.

The New Brunswick Salmon Council is asking recreational fishermen to help support salmon stocks by voluntarily reducing the number of fish they keep and releasing all grilse.

John Bagnall, the president of the salmon council, says grilse, salmon that have only spent one winter at sea before returning to the river, are key to the population health of the species.

Encouraging catch and release will help keep salmon numbers up, he said.

"We're trying to negotiate river classification with the federal government," said Bagnall.

"We'd like to have a meeting about them to implement a system where you can have rivers with zero retention, two fish retention, four fish retention or six fish retention, so we can target harvest in rivers that can handle it.

"This system was actually introduced in Newfoundland a few years ago and, it has reduced angler retention of fish," he said.

Could help with Greenland negotiations

Higher release rates would also improve Canada's position in negotiations to keep a lid on commercial salmon fishing in Europe, said Bagnall.

Canada retained 136 tons of salmon last year, while Greenland kept about 34 tons.

"So naturally, they're going to say, 'Look, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If you guys can keep this many fish, why can't we?'" said Bagnall.

"There may be biological reasons where it's sort of apples and oranges. But what they regard as a dead fish is a dead fish."

Greenland recently announced it plans to open a commercial salmon fishery.

Bagnall said there are fears that Greenland could increase its salmon harvest to 75 tonnes, with the introduction of new freezer capacity.

He said about 3,000 grilse were retained in New Brunswick last year, while 45 per cent of anglers said they hooked and released.