As we reach the mid-point of the 2017 adult wild Atlantic salmon returns to the Miramichi River, it is becoming apparent that not enough salmon are returning to meet critical spawning levels. Salmon stocks in New Brunswick are in crisis. Thirty percent of Canada’s East Coast salmon rivers are not meeting sustainable spawning levels. In the case of the Miramichi River, it has been more than three years since sustainable spawning levels were achieved and only once in the past 10 years for the North West Miramichi. The Miramichi Salmon Association (MSA) is a founding member of CAST (Collaboration for Atlantic Salmon Tomorrow) – a partnership of scientists, environmental groups, government and industry participants. Our focus is saving wild Atlantic salmon before it’s too late.
The CAST science team is the largest team ever formed to research wild Atlantic salmon conservation. This summer 6 scientists, 5 graduate students, and their staff and summer students are at work on four projects to save and grow wild Atlantic salmon in New Brunswick. Today only 60% of the conservation requirement is being met for our populations. That is, we have too few adult fish and the spawning needed to maintain current levels of wild Atlantic salmon.
In the research underway this summer, CAST is tackling 4 critical questions:
1. How many adult salmon are returning to the Southwest and Little Southwest Miramichi Rivers?
2. Where are the cool pools – the ideal habitats for wild Atlantic salmon – located and how do we protect them?
3. How can we give wild Atlantic salmon smolts a head start?
4. How are we using data to respond quickly to changing environments for wild Atlantic salmon?
On the Southwest (SW) and Little Southwest (LSW) Miramichi Rivers, underwater sonar cameras are providing accurate and real-time counts of returning Atlantic salmon, as well as other large fish. This technology provides greater accuracy of fish counts that will help agencies responsible for fisheries management make better decisions.
We’re also taking to the air with thermal, heat-seeking cameras attached to helicopters to identify and map the cool pools that are vital to salmon survival. That data will help us understand how the geology and surrounding landscape make these pools cool and how to protect them.
At the Miramichi Salmon Conservation Centre in South Esk, the MSA team are giving young salmon smolt a better chance of survival before heading to sea where the greatest losses are occurring.
Since 2015 smolt wheels have been catching wild Atlantic salmon smolt in the Miramichi River and taking them to the Conservation Centre. These smolt will be a part of an innovative Atlantic salmon conservation program called Smolt to Adult Supplementation or SAS. The focus is on raising wild salmon smolt to mature adults at the Conservation Centre. Over the two years in the specially-renovated facility, these young wild Atlantic salmon grow 125 times their size. Once the SAS fish have reached maturity in two years, they will be released back into their native river to spawn naturally. The project goal is to get more eggs into the gravel and increase the number of wild smolt in the river. This season, 5000 smolt have been placed in the Conservation Centre for release in 2019 and the first trials with a small number of adult releases will begin this fall.
The fourth project is the data warehouse – a one stop location – to find, retrieve and efficiently use all of the research and data being collected.
Existing historic information on Atlantic salmon is not readily available to fishery scientists, managers or the public. To better support the research and work being done to protect Atlantic salmon, a data management system is being developed for all existing and future Atlantic salmon data. Better data means better decision making and hopefully a better result for wild Atlantic salmon. Information of interest to the public such as detail on recreational salmon fishing lodges, locations of public access salmon pools, will be also assembled and shared online. The beta version of the database is now publicly available at http://canadariversgis.maps.arcgis.com/home/index.html, by searching CAST.
We believe CAST is the most comprehensive group of dedicated salmon enthusiasts ever assembled with the focused goal of saving wild Atlantic salmon. The partners in this venture include:
• Miramichi Salmon Association
• J.D. Irving, Limited
• Cooke Aquaculture
• Canadian Rivers Institute
• University of New Brunswick
• Université Laval
• NB Salmon Council
• Department of Fisheries and Oceans – Gulf Region
• Province of New Brunswick
• Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
The Miramichi Salmon Association is pleased to be part of this effort and we appreciate the support of New Brunswickers for this work. The progress of the CAST program can be followed on the web site www.CASTforsalmon.com as well as on Facebook.