ST. JOHN, New Brunswick — The head of the Atlantic Salmon Federation says Canada is failing to protect its dwindling salmon population and is calling for a ban on the ocean harvest of the wild Atlantic fish.
On the heels of one of the worst salmon returns in history, Bill Taylor says large egg-bearing females that seed rivers across the northeastern seaboard need to be protected.
Many wild salmon are caught in gill nets off Greenland, Labrador and St. Pierre and Miquelon during their migration to and from North American rivers.
Several organizations, including the Atlantic Salmon Federation, want a complete ban on the harvesting of salmon in the ocean.
“We need to do more to save those precious large spawners,” Taylor said Friday. “We’ve got to take action while there is still salmon left to save.”
Taylor will be attending the annual meeting of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization in Ilulissat, Greenland, this weekend, where he will push for a ban on ocean fishing.
Salmon fishing should be restricted to rivers, he said, where the health of each population can be more closely monitored.
“All the Atlantic salmon mingle together in the ocean, so there is no way of selectively harvesting salmon from certain rivers that are in good shape,” Taylor said. “International scientists have been telling us for years that wild Atlantic salmon is in trouble. There should be no harvesting of mixed stocks in the ocean.”
The Miramichi River, for example, is made up of both the southwest and northwest Miramichi Rivers, which meet in the city of Miramichi.
Mark Hambrook, president of the Miramichi Salmon Association, said that while the southwest Miramichi is healthy, the northwest Miramichi has fallen consistently short of its spawning and conservation requirements.
Fishermen out on the ocean cannot distinguish between salmon from different rivers, leading to overharvesting of fish from some rivers, he said, adding that he agrees wild salmon should be harvested only in the river of origin.
“We’re often spawning enough salmon but they just aren’t returning to the river,” he said. “There should be a higher survival rate. Too many are dying in the ocean.”
Hambrook said there are about 50 plausible scenarios that are leading to the death of wild salmon in the ocean, including environmental conditions.
“As the polar ice caps melt, there are changes in the ocean that could set the salmon on a slightly different course that may lead to increased predation from seals,” he said. “There are numerous possibilities.”
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans reported a kill of 7,800 large salmon in aboriginal fisheries and 3,200 in recreational fisheries in 2010.
Taylor said this significant harvest weakens Canada’s negotiations to attempt to reduce Greenland’s harvest.
“Hopefully if we lead by example the Greenlanders will follow suit,” he said. “If we don’t, Greenlanders could return to commercial fishing.”
In 2002 Greenland limited its salmon fishery to internal consumption only, but Taylor said the number of salmon killed has more than tripled from 12 tons in 2003 to 43 tons in 2010. In addition, Taylor said the Greenland government has indicated it may consider reopening the fishery to commercial vessels.
Department of Fisheries and Oceans spokesman Frank Stanek said department officials will be attending the meeting in Greenland and will “continue to work with other delegations to advocate that the ocean at West Greenland remain closed to any commercial harvest for wild Atlantic salmon.”
“Canada has played a leadership role in the implementation of management measures to ensure the long-term viability of this and other important fish stocks,” he said. “We will continue to work with all stakeholders, including the Atlantic Salmon Federation and aboriginal groups, to address the issue of reducing the capture of large salmon.”
Stanek said the Department of Fisheries and Oceans already hastaken several steps to improve the conservation of Atlantic salmon, including a ban on commercial fisheries and a ban on the retention of large salmon in the recreational fishery in Labrador.