Salmon returns down
DFO scientist optimistic for 2017
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.
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.”
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) installed a salmon counting fence on Garnish River in May of last year.