New Brunswick

Fish stocking program recovering after major losses

After a power failure and disease caused large numbers of fish to die at hatcheries that supply the province, New Brunswick's stocking program is back on track.

Approximately 200K speckled trout and landlocked salmon will be released in 2015

Fisher Lakes, part of Saint John's Rockwood Park is one of 65 lakes in New Brunswick regularly stocked with brook trout. Heavy ice cover this spring has delayed the annual program carried out by the Department of Natural Resources. (Neville Crabbe/CBC News)

After a power failure and disease caused large numbers of fish to die at hatcheries that supply the province, New Brunswick's stocking program is back on track, however officials would still like to double the number of trout being released every year.

Speckled trout, also called brook trout, and landlocked salmon are the only species that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) stocks. Both are native to New Brunswick. 

Numbers posted by the department show an average of 69,578 landlocked salmon released released each year between 2010 and 2014. The fish were placed in 24 different lakes.

"With brook trout, our aim is about 160,000 or more," said Krista DeBouver, a DNR biologist. "But in the last couple years we've been trying to increase that by quite a bit, even doubling it, but we've had some unforseen circumstances happen at our facilities, so we still haven't been able to get up to those numbers."

This year DeBouver expects 160,000 brook trout will be released, along with at least 40,000 landlocked salmon. For trout, which are added to 65 lakes province-wide, that would represent a significant bounceback after 2012 and 2013.

In June 2012, a power outage at the Miramichi Salmon Conservation Centre, which rears brook trout for the province, wiped out the fish there, and had a ripple effect over several years.

"That shut off the water supply, and the alarms did not go off for whatever reason, so we basically lost all of our fish, and that includes your broodstock. Broodstock are your adult fish you keep at the facility to spawn and make new fish from," said DeBouver. 

Then in March 2013 an outbreak of infectious pancreatic necrosis hit one of the two trout hatcheries used by the province said DeBouver, though she declined to name the specific facility.

The disease occurs naturally in New Brunswick fish, but the strain detected in the hatchery was "particularly virulent." 

"So then we actually went on to a whole new broodstock source, we developed a new broodstock strain and stopped using that source," said DeBouver.

Landlocked salmon were not affected by the power outage or the disease outbreak. They're reared at the Mactaquac Biodiversity Facility, operated by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The impact of these incidents on the trout stocking program are clear. 

Numbers published by the department show 193,380 speckled trout were stocked in 2011. In 2012, when the power outage occurred at the Miramichi facility, that number dropped to 78,250.

In 2013, after the outbreak of infectious pancreatic necrosis, only 70,960 trout were released. 

In 2014 that number climbed back up to 130,650.

Bass take a bite out of stocking program

Adding fish to New Brunswick's inland waters dates back to the 1870s, when the program was administered by the federal government. Overfishing and habitat destruction likely created the need to top up lakes with trout and salmon. 

However, an introduced species now poses a significant threat. According to Fisheries and Oceans, "smallmouth bass is not an endemic species in the Maritime provinces," but they currently exist in 69 lakes and 34 rivers in New Brunswick.

Smallmouth bass have a direct impact on trout and salmon, literally eating them and dominating the water. 

"We tend not to stock a lot of waters that have smallmouth bass," said DeBouver. "The only ones we do are generally ones that have really high angling pressure...but we have to have larger fish to put in those waters so they can avoid smallmouth bass." 

Instead of adding fish that may be a few months old, DeBouver says the department chooses yearlings, which are approximately seven to eight inches in length.

"A lot of the spring yearlings will go in to Saint John, Charlotte and York counties, whereas a lot of fall fingerlings will go up north, in the Restigouche and Edmunston area. That's because of the fish species that are in the lakes, like smallmouth bass, brown bullheads and suckers, tend to be more prevalent in the south," said DeBouver.

Money well spent says N.B. Wildlife Federation

Every angler in New Brunswick pays for the stocking program. In 2005, after a decision was made to close the provincially run fish hatchery, a mandatory $5 fee was added to the cost of a fishing license.

The money is used mainly to buy fish from the contract hatcheries. 

New Brunswick Wildlife Federation President Charlie LeBlanc says its one portion of the $40 license cost that directly benefits anglers. 

"The monies are directed right where we want it to go, to fish," said LeBlanc. 

"We're creating more angling opportunities because our wild stock, we're over-harvesting maybe, but with this, our money is going back in to the resource and we think that's a good deal," he said. 

In a normal year, stocking activity would be underway by this time, but Krista DeBouver says it may be two to three weeks before the department begins its program.

"Even if there's no ice cover, there's still the road conditions. They're either snow covered or really mucky, so it will definitely be a few weeks yet before we get out."

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