New Brunswick

Voracious striped bass population growing in provincial salmon pools

Wild salmon advocates are sounding the alarm as an exploding striped bass population is being felt in prime New Brunswick salmon pools.

Groups call for measures to reduce size of exploding population

Wild salmon groups fear an exploding striped bass population is eating too many juvenile salmon. (Meghan Wilson, DFO)

Wild salmon advocates are sounding the alarm as an exploding striped bass population is being felt in prime New Brunswick salmon pools.

Schools of the voracious fish, which normally feed in coastal waters at this time of year, were seen up to 100 kilometres above tidal waters in iconic salmon areas such as Rocky Brook on the Miramichi River and Larry's Gulch on the Restigouche.

"We are concerned they are primarily feeding on salmon parr, juvenile salmon," said Nathan Wilbur with the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

"Over the past five years, it's really grown to the point where people are seeing schools of striped bass in salmon pools. And in some cases people are catching more striped bass than salmon."

'Indiscriminate consumer'

The federation is about to launch an online survey to gather more information from anglers who catch striped bass.

It wants them to note the location, date and time of the catch.

If a fish is legally caught and cleaned, the federation also wants information on its stomach contents.

The survey will allow anglers to post photographs and give GPS coordinates, if they want to provide those.

Jerry Doak, owner of W.W. Doak, an outfitter shop in Doaktown, is looking for a different approach to the problem.

Doak sits on the steering committee for the Coalition for Better Atlantic Salmon Management in New Brunswick.

Jerry Doak, owner of W.W. Doak, an outfitters shop in Doaktown, says a bass is an 'indiscriminate consumer' of smaller fish, including juvenile salmon. (CBC)

In early July, the group formally asked Fisheries and Oceans Canada to remove all limits on the size and number of striped bass that can be caught in fresh waters.

Doak said the fish is an "indiscriminate consumer" of any smaller fish that appear around it.

"We're obviously very concerned about this," he said.

"I think that's a very basic request, one that could easily be facilitated with a variation order almost instantaneously."

Doak said the federal department has yet to respond to the request.

"They've had that request now for almost a month and they've done nothing with it that we're aware of," he said.

Gaspereau fishing also affected

A third approach is advocated by Anqotum Resource Management, a group representing seven New Brunswick First Nations.

"What I think should be done is some type of commercial fishery started up," said Les Ginnish, resource manager for the organization.

If something isn't done soon, I don't know what anybody could do.- Les  Ginnish , Anqotum  Resource Management

"If something isn't done soon, I don't know what anybody could do."

Ginnish said he's seen salmon smolt jump out of the water to escape from striped bass hunting them.

But the bass are also hurting commercial gaspereau fishing, he said, and Fisheries and Oceans has been far too cautious in its response to the problem.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada could not immediately respond to the CBC, but the department's website includes a frequently asked questions on striped bass. 

"There is absolutely no scientific information that supports the idea that removing striped bass from estuaries will help improve Atlantic salmon returns," the document states.

"The Department is conducting studies in order to better understand the complex relations between striped bass and other species."

The document also said salmon smolts do not represent a significant part of the striped bass diet.