Wild At­lantic salmon num­bers drop for sec­ond year: At­lantic Salmon Fed­er­a­tion

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - NATIONAL NEWS - ALEX COOKE

SAINT JOHN, N.B. — A new report from a group ad­vo­cat­ing for the pro­tec­tion and con­ser­va­tion of wild At­lantic salmon says the num­ber of salmon in North Amer­i­can rivers has dropped for the sec­ond year in a row.

The At­lantic Salmon Fed­er­a­tion’ s an­nual State of the Pop­u­la­tions report says num­bers in 2017 dipped over­all by 15 per cent com­pared to the year be­fore, and that only half of the 84 rivers as­sessed in North Amer­ica met the min­i­mum con­ser­va­tion limit re­quired to safely sus­tain the species.

A fur­ther 22 of those rivers had fewer than half of the re­quired num­ber of spawn­ing salmon.

“When you look at the num­bers and you’re comparing year-to-year, you’re really only get­ting a snapshot in time of what is hap­pen­ing,” said fed­er­a­tion spokesman Neville Crabbe dur­ing a phone in­ter­view Sun­day.

“But when you pull back the lens and look at what’s hap­pened since the 1970s, we’ve had mul­ti­decadal de­clines in wild At­lantic salmon pop­u­la­tions through­out North Amer­ica.”

The report re­lies on pub­lic data from Fish­eries and Oceans Canada and the International Coun­cil for the Ex­plo­ration of the Sea, a sci­en­tific or­ga­ni­za­tion con­tracted to pro­vide fish­eries ad­vice to the Cana­dian and Amer­i­can gov­ern­ments.

While num­bers vary widely from re­gion to re­gion, New­found­land and parts of south­ern Labrador ex­pe­ri­enced the big­gest de­cline, with their num­ber of re­turn­ing wild At­lantic salmon fall­ing 45 per cent since 2015.

Crabbe at­tributes the drop, in part, to low marine sur­vival rates, ex­plain­ing that salmon typ­i­cally spend the first few years of their lives in their home streams be­fore go­ing out to sea to feed and grow.

Af­ter one win­ter or pos­si­bly sev­eral win­ters, the ma­ture fish are sup­posed to re­turn to their home streams to spawn.

The is­sue, Crabbe said, is that not enough of them are com­ing back.

“So, you have still rel­a­tively healthy num­bers of ju­ve­nile salmon leav­ing their home rivers to be­gin their first ocean mi­gra­tion, but fewer and fewer of them are re­turn­ing.”

He added that open-net pen salmon farm­ing and aqua­cul­ture can pose a risk as well: If fish man­age to es­cape, they can mate with wild fish and may pro­duce off­spring un­able to sur­vive in the wild.

Crabbe said the drop in salmon num­bers points to a larger is­sue.

“Wild At­lantic salmon are really an in­di­ca­tor species that tell us a lot about the health of our over­all en­vi­ron­ment, and their de­cline tells us a lot about what’s chang­ing in the ocean: things like global warm­ing, ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion, chang­ing food webs,” he said.

“It mat­ters a great deal, not just for peo­ple who are pas­sion­ate about At­lantic salmon, but for peo­ple who care about the en­vi­ron­ment and con­ser­va­tion over­all.”

While num­bers over­all are look­ing bleak, some ar­eas are meet­ing and even ex­ceed­ing the min­i­mum con­ser­va­tion re­quire­ments to sus­tain healthy pop­u­la­tions.

The report re­veals that 32 out of 38 rivers as­sessed in Que­bec met min­i­mum sus­tain­abil­ity re­quire­ments, and the English River in north­ern Labrador reached more than dou­ble the min­i­mum con­ser­va­tion limit.

Other parts of At­lantic Canada fared rel­a­tively well — the Res­tigouche river in New Brunswick met 135 per cent of its min­i­mum con­ser­va­tion limit.

The Mar­ga­ree River in Cape Bre­ton is also well above the min­i­mum con­ser­va­tion limit, with an es­ti­mated re­turn of more than 1,500 large salmon in 2017. How­ever, the report notes that those num­bers are still well below their long-term av­er­age of 2,750 fish.

Crabbe said the fed­er­a­tion plans to ask del­e­gates gath­er­ing in Maine this week for the sum­mit of the North At­lantic Salmon Con­ser­va­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion to take ac­tion in their home waters to help pre­serve wild salmon pop­u­la­tions.

That could in­clude min­i­miz­ing threats from salmon aqua­cul­ture, pre­vent­ing salmon fish­ing in ar­eas where pop­u­la­tions are threat­ened or en­dan­gered, and en­sur­ing that all in-river fish­eries are op­er­ated sus­tain­ably and re­spon­si­bly.

“There should be no fish­ery that is im­per­illing that pop­u­la­tion to sus­tain it­self and grow,” said Crabbe. “We would like to see coun­tries take a strong stand on that.”

TOM MOF­FATT/AT­LANTIC SALMON FED­ER­A­TION

A wild salmon re­turn­ing from the sea climbs up Big Falls on the Humber River in New­found­land on its way to spawn in this un­dated hand­out photo.

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