Sal­mon re­turns down

DFO sci­en­tist op­ti­mistic for 2017

The Pilot - - SPORTS - BY ADAM RAN­DELL

The fish­way counts are in and sal­mon num­bers are down across the prov­ince.

With re­gard to sal­mon re­turns, adult re­turns at eight of 14 mon­i­tored rivers were be­low the five-year av­er­age.

But Dr. Ge­off Veinott, a sci­en­tist with the Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans (DFO), says there are too many vari­ables to come into play to de­ter­mine the health of the species on just one year.

The most sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor is likely smolt out­put - ju­ve­nile sal­mon that leave the river each spring - which Veinott stated was the lowest it’s been in 15 years.

Smolts will spend three years in fresh water be­fore head­ing to salt water in the spring.

It’s here sea sur­vival comes into play. Be­tween 92 to 98 per cent of the smolts don’t re­turn to water dur­ing the course of 15 months at sea.

Veinott said the cause is likely tied into pre­da­tion, as an­glers aren’t see­ing sick sal­mon reen­ter­ing fresh water.

With low ju­ve­nile num­bers en­ter­ing salt water in the spring of 2015 and av­er­age sea sur­vival, re­turns would be ex­pect­edly lower.

How­ever, from the time the eggs are laid, sal­mon go through a five-year cy­cle that ul­ti­mately leads them back to fresh water. Mean­ing a good run ties into five key fac­tors: strong egg pro­duc­tion, egg sur­vival, par sur­vival, smolt out­put and sea sur­vival.

“There’s a lot of vari­ables in try­ing to de­ter­mine this,” he said. “In 2015 we had a fairly good year, now 2016 ev­ery­thing is down.

“That’s why we try not to jump to too many con­clu­sions based on one year, but if this continues, it’s ob­vi­ously go­ing to be a se­ri­ous prob­lem if these types of de­clines con­tinue.”

He also noted hot, dry sum­mers can also play a fac­tor in the health of the species, as At­lantic sal­mon are a cold water species, with pref­er­ence to cold, well oxy­genated water.

Over the sum­mer 23 rivers were closed be­cause of poor con­di­tions.

“If hot dry sum­mers be­come the norm we could be in trou­ble,” he said.

2017 op­ti­mism

In ob­serv­ing the smolt count for 2016, which is car­ried out in the spring, Veinott is op­ti­mistic for the year to come.

The count is car­ried out in four dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions across the prov­ince, - Camp­bell­ton River, West­ern Arm Brook (Plum Point area), Gar­nish and Rocky River.

Com­ing in with a count of 44,000, Camp­bell­ton River in­creased by 8,000 smolts over last year.

West­ern Arm Brook was slightly down. Is­sues with the Rocky River fish­way and a washout at Gar­nish pre­vented con­clu­sive re­sults.

“The Camp­bell­ton counts were re­ally good, West­ern Arm Brook seems to have a stronger sea sur­vival, so there’s no ma­jor con­cern there,” he said. “So it bodes well for a 2017 run, so we might see a small uptick in 2017.”

But that’s based on inland wa­ters. How things play out at sea will be a true de­ter­min­ing fac­tor for 2017.

“Sea sur­vival is now the key vari­able for the 2017 sea­son,” said Veinott. “We’re only talk­ing a per cent or two in dif­fer­ence.

“If it goes from eight per cent to six per cent, we get a poor run, if it goes from eight to 10 per cent were go­ing to have an ex­cep­tional run.”

PHOTO SUB­MIT­TED

The Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans (DFO) in­stalled a sal­mon count­ing fence on Gar­nish River in May of last year.

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