DFO won't let salmon conservation group stock Miramichi
CAST program saw young salmon removed from river and grown to adults in a hatchery
A Miramichi River salmon-stocking initiative partly financed by one part of the federal government has been shut down by another, at least for this year, after Fisheries and Oceans Canada denied the program a permit.
A Fisheries spokesperson cited a lack of peer review for the plan and concerns from First Nations.
We never thought it would come to this point.- Andrew Willett, CAST
"Given the cultural significance of Atlantic salmon to Indigenous people in New Brunswick, it is critical to have their meaningful participation and consent prior to embarking on the larger-scale experimental studies involving hatchery-raised adult salmon supplementation in the Miramichi system," said Vance Chow, communications adviser at DFO.
The decision is described was a "significant setback" by Andrew Willett, executive director of CAST, a coalition of groups that includes the Miramichi Salmon Association, UNB, J.D. Irving Ltd. and Cooke Aqua.
Put smolt in hatchery
The stocking plan saw three-year-old wild salmon smolt collected from the Little Southwest and Northwest branches of the Miramichi while on their way to the sea.
The fish have been raised to adults in a hatchery and were to be released in early October into the same rivers to spawn.
Raising the fish in a safe, hatchery environment was intended to ensure the salmon were not lost in the ocean from which only a tiny fraction of the wild population return.
- Voracious striped bass population growing in provincial salmon pools
- Catch and release decision on Atlantic salmon disappointing, says industry leader
- 26 Miramichi salmon pools closed until water cools down
The project has millions of dollars in federal and provincial funding, and its future now appears to be in question.
"We're trying to find a way, we're trying to find some solutions here," said Willett. "We never thought it would come to this point.
"We believe DFO have made their decision based on incomplete information. We believe DFO has disregarded independent scientific opinion."
Too late to put in river
Willett said many of the 630 adult salmon at the South Esk hatchery have already spawned and it's now too late to put them into the rivers.
The DFO decision to withhold a permit puts the future of the project in question, he said.
"CAST feels that they have met the conditions required by DFO for the release of the adult salmon, including meaningful engagement with First Nations," said Willett.
A spokesperson for Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqnn Inc., representing New Brunswick Mi'kmaq First Nations, could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
In November 2016, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency announced non-repayable contribution to CAST of more than $2.45 million.
An ACOA news release at that time said: "The program's success could have widespread benefits, potentially serving as a model to help replenish stocks in other Atlantic Canadian and eastern North American rivers that have been gradually declining for 50 years."