Atlantic salmon stocks dip in 2016, leading to fears for this year
Rivers in northern areas of Quebec and Atlantic Canada do better than those in south
Numbers for wild Atlantic salmon returning to rivers in Atlantic Canada and Quebec are not healthy, according to the Atlantic Salmon Federation.
Bill Taylor, the president of the federation, said the group has data from 62 rivers in the region showing the number of salmon returning to spawn. The data determines whether a river has enough salmon to meet a minimum conservation level.
And the numbers aren't good, said Taylor, who blames salmon farming in the Bay of Fundy for part of the decline.
"Of all those 62 assessed rivers, only two-thirds of them met that minimum conservation level, and way too many were far below that minimum," said Taylor.
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According to the report, the number of salmon returning to rivers in the region last year totalled 533,500, a 27 per cent decrease from 2015.
Numbers were also discouraging in 2014, and populations of grilse — salmon that have only been to sea once — have also seen a decline recently.
Warning from Greenland
But one of the more obvious warning signs that salmon numbers may be low again this year comes from Greenland, Taylor said.
"Last year at Greenland, which is where all our large salmon go to feed, the Greenlanders couldn't even catch their very small quota, and that's the first time ever," he said.
North versus south
Taylor said there's a measurable difference between northern and southern rivers when it comes to salmon stocks.
"You can pretty much draw a line from the Miramichi horizontally across to the Margaree River in Cape Breton Island," he said. "Everything north of that is relatively healthy to very healthy. Every single river below is teetering on the brink."
There could be many reasons for this dichotomy, he said.
You've got problems with escaped fish from salmon farms running up the rivers, breeding with wild fish, weakening the wild gene pool. You've got problems with disease.- Bill Taylor, Atlantic Salmon Federationi
"The further north you go, the further you are from urbanization," Taylor said. "Rivers are cleaner, forestry practices are perhaps less intense."
Specifically, though, Taylor believes the open-pen salmon fishery in the Bay of Fundy and in southern Nova Scotia could also be to blame.
"You've got problems with escaped fish from salmon farms running up the rivers, breeding with wild fish, weakening the wild gene pool. You've got problems with disease. You've got problems with parasites [like] sea lice."
Taylor wants the provincial and federal governments to do more to protect the salmon already in the rivers, including hiring more wardens to catch poachers. He also called on anglers and First Nations fisheries to consider reducing or stopping their salmon harvests until the stocks rebound.
With files from Information Morning Moncton