New Brunswick

Atlantic salmon groups await word on hook-and-release rules

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is being pushed to decide soon on whether anglers can keep any salmon caught in Gulf of St. Lawrence rivers this year.

Some groups call for end to mandatory release of grilse, but others say numbers still too low

The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has not yet announced whether catch-and-release rules will apply again this year to all Atlantic salmon caught in the Gulf of St. Lawrence region. (Kelsey Taylor, Atlantic Salmon Federation)

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is being pushed to decide soon on whether anglers can keep any salmon caught in Gulf of St. Lawrence rivers this year.

For the past two years, mandatory hook–and–release rules have been extended from large Atlantic salmon to include grilse, the young salmon that have returned after one winter at sea. 

The river is in much better shape than it's been given credit for.- Jerry Doak, fly shop operator

The Atlantic salmon season opens April 15.

In 2015 and 2016, the federal department announced the release requirement just days before the season started.

"I think it's vitally imperative that DFO do this in a timely fashion," said Jerry Doak, who operates a fly fishing shop in Doaktown on the Miramichi River.

With the season opening in seven weeks, lodges and others are trying to make plans and arrange bookings.

"They've simply been avoiding it and postponing it and leaving it to the 11th hour," Doak said.

Sees better numbers

Doak has been a leader in an effort to allow anglers to keep grilse in certain areas where the number of salmon returns are higher.

"The river is in much better shape than it's been given credit for," he said. "They've been lumped into one general blanket policy, and I don't believe the river is well–served by that."

"The release of grilse is not something that is warranted biologically, especially on the main Southwest Miramichi, where the vast majority, 92 percent, of our grilse are male."

Earlier this month the New Brunswick Wildlife Federation also called for the reintroduction of salmon tags for grilse, claiming anglers have been "staying away from the rivers in droves" since the mandatory hook–and–release order was put in place.

Not healthy enough for tags

The Atlantic Salmon Federation and other conservation groups want Fisheries and Oceans to maintain mandatory hook–and–release rules, at least for the 2017 season.

New Brunswick program director Nathan Wilbur said that overall counts of returning salmon are simply too low to bring back the tag system, which allowed anglers to keep a certain number of fish.

"For the most part the rivers are below their conservation requirements for salmon and have been for quite some time," said Wilbur. "We believe we're not quite there yet to allow tags to come back for the 2017 season."

The federation is pushing for river–by–river management by Fisheries and Oceans, so adult returns would be more accurately counted and a plan would be put in place to determine what each river needed to have a sustainable salmon run.

The river–by–river management proposal has support from all sides.

Miramichi suffers 

Jerry Doak raised the issue last May, when he addressed Parliament's standing committee on fisheries and oceans.

"The Miramichi is not well–served by a management strategy which lumps all rivers together under a blanket policy," Doak said.

"It needs and deserves a more targeted approach, tailored to its particular set of unique characteristics."

A federal Fisheries spokesperson could not be reached Wednesday for comment. 

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