First, for clarification, I am Greg Roach, but I am not with DFO. I was the chair of the minister's advisory committee.
I'm very pleased to see that the standing committee is paying attention and putting some focus on wild Atlantic salmon. It's certainly needed. I will give an overview of the minister's advisory committee on Atlantic salmon, the processes it involved, and the recommendations that it made.
I'll give a little background. As I'm sure you are well aware, the salmon resource has been declining for some time. There have been a lot of pressures on it, starting with early fisheries and early disruptions to the environment and the habitat, followed by the damming of rivers through hydro dams and mill dams. Then recently, into the 1980s, there were acid rain problems, and then in more recent times we saw extreme declines in some of our major rivers, including the Miramichi. In fact, in 2014 only 30% of the rivers that were measured met the spawning escapement, and the Miramichi was particularly hard hit, so Minister Shea announced the establishment of the ministerial advisory committee on Atlantic salmon, which I will report on today.
The committee had a chair and a vice-chair, plus nine members. There were two members from Nova Scotia, two from Newfoundland and Labrador, two from New Brunswick, one from P.E.I., and two from Quebec.
The members had vast experience in wild Atlantic salmon. Some of them had spent their entire careers working in that field, and others were involved through volunteer organizations or were active members in stewardship initiatives. The committee in its own right had a lot of expertise, but even with that, we were instructed to get input from external sources: stakeholders, partners in the different areas, plus other science and resource expertise.
We held consultation sessions in Halifax, Moncton, and St. John's, with video links to Goose Bay in Labrador and to Quebec City. In each of those areas we also heard from specific expert groups, DFO scientists, non-governmental organization scientists, university scientists, and other organizations that had professional expertise that they could provide to the committee. We wanted to hear from anyone who had expertise and insight into what was going on with the wild Atlantic salmon and some of the things that might be done to improve wild Atlantic salmon.
While it was quite wide open, we had a very specific mandate. We were told we had to target areas that included conservation. In conservation, we talked about habitat improvement, fishing mortality, stock enhancement, and aquaculture.
Enforcement was another mandate. We were to look at deterrence through enforcement and compliance and also through education and information exchange.
The next area of our mandate was predation. The key species that we looked at here included grey seals, striped bass, sea birds, and smallmouth bass. We also spoke about science, and in this area we looked at knowledge gaps, particularly focusing on stock assessment, data collection, partnerships with other scientific organizations, ocean tracking and ocean issues, water quality, and aquaculture interactions.
We put some focus on national fisheries, specifically with the Greenland fisheries and also the Saint Pierre and Miquelon fishery. We had a catch-all area we called “other considerations”.
As we started through the consultations, many very good ideas were put before the committee, so we decided to include the category of “other” to capture some of these that we thought were pertinent to the things that needed to be done for wild Atlantic salmon.
To quickly go through the recommendations, the committee made 61. That's a lot. We tried to prioritize them, but there was consensus on all these recommendations and a desire to make sure they were recorded, so we put forward all the recommendations. We kept the recommendations under the mandate areas—for example, conservation. I'm sure you folks have the report from the ministerial fisheries advisory committee, so I'll highlight them.
The big one for conservation is additional investment in habitat and science. Habitat improvement was a major one. We believe that a lot of activities in the open ocean may be difficult at this time to address, with the exception maybe of fish mortality, mainly because we don't know a lot of this information, but we do know some of the impacts on the habitat in the coastal river areas, so we can make some significant differences by working there.
We looked at collaboration with the provinces to address habitat issues through existing regulations and existing land use practices. We talked about recommendations using the scientific approach—what they call the precautionary approach—for the harvest in the recreational fishery. We looked at recommendations to reduce the mortality from net fisheries by non-first nations fisheries. There are still a number of fisheries taking place in which there is a bycatch of Atlantic salmon, and we wanted to have that issue addressed.
We put forward a number of recommendations for first nations fisheries. We recognized the rights for food, social, and ceremonial fisheries, but put forward some recommendations to address possible take-out periods for some of the nets, net camping as an important concept, the positioning of the nets to put them close to the mouths of the rivers so that they wouldn't intercept fish that were destined for other rivers as they were transiting through an area, and also perhaps the use of fish traps instead of nets so that they could select the species or the size of the fish and also keep the fish alive before they're harvested.
We also talked about some collaboration on regulatory issues to work towards best land use practices and regulations for aquaculture.
Enforcement is pretty straightforward. We suggested there should be increased enforcement capacity and increased partnerships to make the enforcement more efficient. We also talked about education programs to get information out to the general public.
On predation, in relation to grey seals and striped bass we talked about increasing the research to figure out what the impacts were and also about increasing the harvest through, perhaps, some fisheries for grey seals, perhaps with first nations. Also we talked about increasing the recreational fishery and first nation fisheries for striped bass, in addition to doing the research.
In the case of seabirds, we focused on looking at the impact, so more research would be needed there.
Finally, concerning smallmouth bass, particularly in the Miramichi region, there's a population in Miramichi Lake that is of concern, so we recommended some steps on that front.
In the science recommendations we talked about improving data collection, improving collaboration among the different scientific groups, and improving the stock assessments. There are a number of rivers that are assessed every year. In the case of some, it's not clear whether the funding would even be continued, so we talked about shoring up the funding for existing rivers and adding some additional rivers.
There are many partners that can help with the science, and DFO doesn't have to be the lead on all partnerships, so we strongly recommended increasing partnerships for data collection in the river systems and moving forward on that front.
On the international fisheries, we put interim recommendations forward to basically work with international parties—with Denmark and Greenland, particularly, for the Greenland fisheries, along with NASCO, and with France and Saint Pierre and Miquelon to have a look at that fishery. It's somewhat concerning to have a commercial fishery intercepting salmon destined for Canadian rivers off Saint Pierre and Miquelon when the fisheries are closed in other areas where those fish are heading.
There are a number of other recommendations as well, the key one being the review of the wild Atlantic salmon policy. There are many recommendations and components in it that are touched by the recommendations we made.
The bottom line is that we have a number of partnerships and a number of players who are ready to work in this area, but there is a need for additional investment and some more initiatives from DFO.
Wild salmon is a very valued resource in Atlantic Canada. We need new investment to address the concerns, so we proposed the establishment of a wild salmon research and innovation fund. It would support science. It would support habitat improvements and other initiatives. It would leverage other programs and utilize our research partners and volunteer partners who are out there.
To help coordinate this work, we also recommended the establishment of an Atlantic salmon scientific research and development group. That group would basically coordinate the science and share data and information.
The research fund being proposed, then, would be a 10-year program, with an arm's-length group to act as oversight to ensure that the resources were used for the priority areas.
That's the summary. Thank you very much.
For starters, I'd like to say thank you to the committee and in particular to my MP, Bernadette Jordan, for inviting me to participate in this meeting to discuss the state of Atlantic salmon. It's an honour to be included, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to share some of my thoughts, concerns, and ideas about this important species with the committee.
As mentioned, my name is Brooke Nodding, and I am the executive director of Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation. We're located in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.
Coastal Action is a community-based charitable organization with a mandate to address the environmental concerns along the south shore region of Nova Scotia. The organization's goal is to promote the restoration, enhancement, and conservation of our ecosystem through research, education, and action.
Coastal Action has been an established member of the Lunenburg County community since its inception in December of 1993, and I have been leading the organization as executive director since April of 2001. Over the past 20-plus years, Coastal Action has successfully completed a vast number of projects within the south shore region of the province. Project themes have included such issues as river restoration; water quality monitoring; fisheries research; endangered species projects addressing the roseate tern, Atlantic whitefish, Atlantic salmon, and American eel; marine protected areas; microplastics and marine debris; climate change and pollution prevention initiatives; and clean boating. Those are just to name a few.
I'm here today specifically to talk to the plight of the Southern Upland Atlantic salmon, one of five designatable units of Atlantic salmon found in Nova Scotia. This population assemblage can be found in watersheds extending from the northeastern mainland near Canso along both the eastern and south shore regions of the province and into the Bay of Fundy southwest of Cape Split, an area covering a little more than half of Nova Scotia.
Historically, Southern Upland salmon have been known to exist in at least 72 different watersheds within this region. The South Upland designatable unit was assessed by the committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada as endangered in November of 2010 and is currently under review for listing on schedule 1 through the federal Species at Risk Act.
Based on genetic evidence, regional geography, and differences in life history characteristics, the Southern Upland designatable unit is considered to be biologically unique and would be an irreplaceable loss of Atlantic salmon biodiversity if extirpation or extinction were to occur.
Much of the data on the status and trends of Southern Upland salmon come from the two indexed rivers in the province, the LaHave River located in Lunenburg County and the St. Mary's River located in Guysborough County. Similar to the case with all other Atlantic salmon populations, Southern Upland salmon numbers have experienced a drastic decline from the numbers observed in the 1980s and even the 1990s. Population modelling for salmon in both the LaHave and St. Mary's Rivers indicates a high probability of extirpation—87% and 73% respectively—within the next 50 years in the absence of human intervention or a change in survival rates for some other reason.
Threats to the species have been identified through the recent recovery potential assessment exercise conducted by DFO in 2013. These include acidification, altered hydrology, invasive species, traditional stocking methods, habitat fragmentation, illegal fishing and poaching, aquaculture, and marine ecosystem changes. It is important to note that addressing any one of these threats in isolation will not likely lead to positive population gains. A broad recovery plan addressing multiple threats would be a far more effective approach.
In response to public concerns around DFO's involvement in recovery efforts for the Southern Upland salmon, a meeting was held in June, 2013, involving both DFO representatives and invited stakeholders. As a result of this meeting, the Southern Upland salmon collaborative project's working group was established to identify internal and external client issues and priorities for Southern Upland salmon and to determine which of these would benefit most from collaboration with DFO population ecology division staff and how these collaborations could be accommodated, given current resources. The role of the working group was to focus on scientific projects associated with research, monitoring, data management, and advice with regard to conservation efforts aimed at the species.
From this working group, a list of 13 priority Southern Upland salmon rivers was developed and a number of subcommittees formed. The 13 priority rivers were chosen based on the following criteria: salmon were present in the river, based on the latest electrofishing survey results; the population primarily consisted of a wild native strain of salmon; there remained a relatively good pH in the system; there was an active community group in the area; the river had ample available rearing habitat; and it contributed to a diverse group of priority watersheds.
The subcommittees were developed to address the priority threats as identified by the stakeholder groups and included the following: habitat fragmentation, acidification, estuarine survival, and water quality.
In addition to these priority threats, projects were developed around supportive rearing. There's a kelt rejuvenation project in the St. Mary's system and and a proposal on invasive species for the LaHave River.
Based on what we know about Atlantic salmon in the Atlantic region, the time to act is now. The Southern Upland designatable unit, or DU, if let alone, is in serious trouble. Presently there are still large enough numbers of fish remaining in the wild to achieve recovery targets, keeping intact the genetic diversity of the population.
There exists an external capacity to conduct research and carry out projects outside of DFO through established membership of the Southern Upland Collaborative Projects Working Group. There are active projects going on in some of the identified priority watersheds that could be expanded or improved upon with more resources.
However, all of this capacity and momentum could easily be lost without a renewed commitment from the federal government and without adequate resources directed towards both research and conservation restoration activities. Cuts to DFO science have significantly reduced DFO's ability to address any of the larger Atlantic salmon research questions. The trend of cutting resources in the face of declining population numbers must be reversed if we are serious about the recovery of the Southern Upland salmon. Additional resources prior to the listing of a species could go a long way in preventing Southern Upland salmon from experiencing the same fate as their closest neighbours, the inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic salmon.
The recreational fisheries conservation partnerships program, the RFCPP, allows for groups to deliver important on-the-ground habitat improvement projects. However, the program does have its shortcomings, in that it does not allow for monitoring activities and is extremely strict around the amount of funds that can be allocated to planning activities.
Although the RFCPP funds can be used for chemical manipulation projects, the limited scope of the program makes it unrealistic for many of the acid mitigation projects and solutions being proposed for the Southern Upland region of Nova Scotia. A review of this program to address some of these issues would be beneficial and help with the larger recovery efforts for the Southern Upland salmon.
In conclusion, the window of opportunity for recovery of the Southern Upland salmon is rapidly closing.
There are many important initiatives ongoing that continue to need support and resources: the liming project on the West River Sheet Harbour, the catchment liming pilot project in Gold River, the aluminum toxicity work being done on various rivers across the Southern Upland region, large-scale habitat restoration efforts and the kelt rejuvenation project in St. Mary's River, and the proposed invasive species work on the LaHave River.
Let's all work towards achieving a positive result for Atlantic salmon by being proactive in our approach to dealing with the Southern Upland salmon before is becomes a federally listed species.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thanks to the members of the committee for this invitation to come and speak to you today.
I won't say everything that I've provided in my brief to you because a lot of it is about basic elements of biology, but it's there for your interest and perusal.
My experience with Atlantic salmon began in 1982 during my master's research in Newfoundland in two rivers and two ponds in Terra Nova National Park. Since then, I've accumulated 34 years of research experience on wild Atlantic salmon, and I also have 27 years of experience working on the consequences of interactions between wild and farmed salmon.
In addition to my research experience, I've held positions with responsibility to provide science advice. These have included being chair of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, or COSEWIC. I've also chaired a Royal Society of Canada expert panel on sustaining Canada's marine biodiversity with respect to fisheries, aquiculture, and climate change. I've had the pleasure to be able to present testimony to this committee and the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans over the last 20 years. I'm currently a member of the scientific advisory committee on the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation and I've served as independent reviewer of recovery plans for several endangered Pacific salmon for the United States National Marine Fisheries Service.
There are about 34,000 species of fish in the world. Of these 34,000, the life history variation expressed by Atlantic salmon is actually matched by relatively few other species. Atlantic salmon might well express more life history variation than almost any other fish in Canada. It is thus emblematic of the richness of Canadian aquatic biodiversity, but the richness and diversity of wild Atlantic salmon, as the committee is aware, is under considerable threat, particularly in the southern parts of its range. Salmon have been extinct in Lake Ontario for more than a century, and they no longer spawn in many rivers in the Maritimes.
COSEWIC, the national science advisory body to the Minister of the Environment on species at risk, has assessed six units of Atlantic salmon as being either endangered or threatened: south Newfoundland; Anticosti Island; eastern Cape Breton; Southern Uplands, which Brooke just talked about; inner Bay of Fundy; and outer Bay of Fundy. From a science perspective, I think it's fair to say there is consensus that the primary threats to most endangered and threatened wild Atlantic salmon in eastern Canada include partial and full barriers to migration such as dams; illegal fishing, which we've already heard about; and deterioration in habitat quality in some rivers.
In the marine environment, we almost certainly have had some shifts in oceanographic conditions and likely in ecosystem structure that have altered the interactions between species from a predator-prey perspective, and possibly in terms of competition for food. We also, in the coastal marine environment, have issues related to aquaculture operations.
However, of key importance from a recovery perspective is the fact that almost all endangered Atlantic salmon have declined by more than 90%, some even more so, when compared to their maximum recorded abundances. Declines of this extent can lead to unduly prolonged and increasingly uncertain recovery. Such massive depletions draw attention to a central tenet in population biology: small populations are more vulnerable to unexpected natural and human-induced change than large populations. Another way of putting this is that within the context of endangered and threatened wild Atlantic salmon, every fish counts in many of these rivers.
By focusing on the small, absolute numbers of salmon—often there are tens of adults returning to many of these rivers—attention is drawn to the possibility that the marine environment might not have changed quite to the extent that is sometimes hypothesized. Rather, perhaps what has changed is the ability of depleted salmon populations to persist in the face of environmental conditions in which considerably larger populations might have been able to persist in the past.
I've suggested five courses of action from a science perspective.
The first would be to accept COSEWIC's science advice to list Atlantic salmon under the Species At Risk Act. The listing of salmon under SARA would initiate legal requirements to prepare and enact recovery strategies and associated action plans.
The second would be to take measures to expand the quantity and quality of Atlantic salmon habitat in fresh water by mitigating partial and complete barriers to salmon migration, and perhaps by expanding existing initiatives to improve salmon habitat and stewardship.
The third would be to reduce and ideally eliminate illegal fishing, as has already been mentioned. Even if the absolute numbers of salmon that are poached or illegally caught is small, the proportional effects on very small populations can be quite large.
Number four would be to reduce threats to wild salmon posed by salmonid aquaculture. In this case, the viability of severely depleted populations can be negatively affected by unintended consequences of aquaculture operations, including interbreeding between wild salmon and farmed escapees, which has been reported in 54 rivers and bays in eastern Canada, and the exchange of pathogens and disease, although that latter point is perhaps not as well scientifically substantiated for Atlantic salmon as is the former.
Last, I suggest from a science perspective to take a very broad generic, theoretical approach, a modelling approach, to identify a model that would incorporate all available information on Atlantic salmon throughout its range to identify survival bottlenecks at various regional and population scales, thus strengthening the science advice associated with potential mitigation strategies.
To sum up, then, I would see the following general pattern. As we move from north to south, from Newfoundland and Labrador south to the Maritimes, we see an increased risk of extinction. We see a reduction in the survival from the smolt stage to the returning adult stage. We see an increased level of habitat alteration and fragmentation in fresh water. We see an increase in marine and freshwater water temperatures. We see an increase in the number and density of salmonid aquaculture sites, and from a marine ecosystem perspective, we also see shifts away from the larger demersal or bottom-dwelling groundfish, such as cod, to ecosystems that are increasingly dominated by small mid-water or pelagic species such as herring, and this might well have consequences for the food supply of salmon smolts.
With that, I'd like to close. I'd be happy to address any comments and questions that might arise.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and committee members.
I'm here representing the Atlantic Salmon Federation. The Atlantic Salmon Federation been around since 1948. We are well aware of the many issues confronting wild Atlantic salmon and have some ideas about potential solutions as well.
We carry out our own research, advocacy, public awareness, and community outreach activities. We're incorporated as a charity both in Canada and in the United States. We have seven regional councils representing 125 local grassroots organizations and over 25,000 members throughout the salmon's range in eastern North America. Our headquarters are in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, and we have regional offices in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the State of Maine.
We have a long history in salmon conservation, research, and restoration. All of our policies and positions are science-based. We are internationally recognized for our research capabilities, have published many peer-reviewed scientific articles, and are invited to participate in scientific exchanges locally, nationally, and internationally.
The ASF has scientific representation on the working group of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, ICES, which provides advice to the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization, NASCO. We are also delegates on the U.S. and Canadian delegations to NASCO and provide leadership to the accredited 35 international NGOs to NASCO.
Our main research programs are on marine survival of Atlantic salmon and interactions between wild salmon and farmed escapees. We have data from more than a decade of research that has tracked migrating salmon—smolt and adults—more than 1,000 kilometres, from the Miramichi, the Restigouche, and the Grand Cascapedia all the way to the Strait of Belle Isle.
As for the issues facing wild Atlantic salmon, there are many. With the threats facing wild Atlantic salmon, it's death by a thousand cuts. The ASF has worked very closely with provincial, state, federal, and international governments to push for action that would protect this species. There have been good years and bad years for Atlantic salmon runs, and there have been highs and lows. What's obvious, though, is that the lows are getting lower year after year, and that was certainly the case in 2014, when it was a crisis situation, particularly in the Maritimes.
Salmon, as already has been mentioned, are especially at risk in the southern range. When that became apparent in the severe decline in the Miramichi in 2014, people became very vocal and urged government to action. Former minister Gail Shea responded quickly to the crisis by appointing the ministerial advisory committee, which I co-chaired with Greg Roach.
The committee's 61 recommendations were presented to DFO almost a year ago. I am hopeful that the federal government is prepared to move ahead on many of them. There was some good news yesterday when Minister announced the funding for research in marine assessment and freshwater assessment, as there was with the extension earlier this year by the Gulf Region DFO for the total release of angled salmon in the Maritimes, and also in Quebec's recent announcement on its recreational fisheries management plan, where live release is fundamental to that program this year as well.
To restore wild Atlantic salmon, though, we must deal with all of the challenges facing the species throughout its life cycle. The ASF has developed programs by concentrating on priority goals that are aimed at attaining environmentally sustainable salmon aquaculture, shedding light on the causes of low marine survival, promoting sustainable freshwater fisheries, protecting the Atlantic salmon's freshwater habitat, and protecting migrating salmon from unsustainable fisheries at sea. We appeal to the federal government to provide resources and implement the policies that support wild Atlantic salmon throughout their entire life cycle.
On the subject of environmentally sustainable salmon aquaculture, marine-based net-pen salmon aquaculture has grown extensively along the Atlantic coast, and there is a growing awareness of the negative effects on wild salmon populations. One of the most comprehensive peer-reviewed studies of aquaculture interactions on wild salmon confirmed that globally there is a much steeper decline in numbers of wild salmon living in rivers that are close to salmon farming.
DFO has identified ocean-based net-pen salmon aquaculture as a marine threat to the wild populations in the inner Bay of Fundy region, which were listed as endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act in 2003. The wild populations in the outer Bay of Fundy and along the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia have been designated by COSEWIC as endangered, and on the south coast of Newfoundland as threatened. DFO's recovery potential assessments for the potential listing of these populations consistently identify that salmon aquaculture is a high-level threat.
Government must recognize that salmon farming as practised today is not sustainable, and it must take leadership in moving the industry to closed containment facilities as one alternative. Until such time as operations can be fully implemented towards closed containment, marine-based net-pen salmon aquaculture must be held to the highest standards possible.
There is no consistency in Canada in regulation of aquaculture in Atlantic Canada—so Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia all have different approaches and standards—and the industry will voluntarily raise the standards in their operations only when it affects the bottom line. The cost and impact of the bottom line are the ultimate situation here, and governments must ensure not only that standards are in place but also that they are enforced.
On promoting sustainable freshwater fisheries, both angling and first nations, ASF wants to commend Fisheries and Oceans for renewing their restriction to live release only in the recreational fishery for Maritimes this year. That was implemented on the advice of the ministerial advisory committee. I also want to commend Quebec for its Atlantic salmon management plan this year, with a new emphasis on live release and river-by-river management.
In Quebec, though, unfortunately, while the Quebec government wanted to reduce the season harvest this year and reduce the number of tags from seven to four, and from seven large fish tags to only one large fish tag and three tags for grilse, that could not be done because it requires a legislative change by DFO, so hopefully we can see that in place for 2017.
I can't emphasize enough the importance of introducing improved precautionary fisheries management measures throughout the entire life cycle of salmon. That includes our first nations fisheries and other jurisdictions such as Greenland and St. Pierre and Miquelon.
There are first nations who are leaders in using trap nets that allow the live release of large salmon, large female spawners, and these initiatives need to be well supported and promoted by DFO with a view to expansion.
Improved management of all Atlantic salmon fisheries in Canada is essential in negotiating reduced harvest at Greenland, both within NASCO and in bilateral discussions. In NASCO's process to improve Greenland's monitoring and control of its fisheries, the salmon fisheries management of other NASCO nations like Canada comes under scrutiny. To show real leadership, we must immediately take steps to improve our own salmon management practices.
Greenland is making an effort, and all of its fishermen must now report accurately all of their catches, even if their catch was zero. On the other hand, our harvest and our reporting is inadequate. In some areas there is no reporting of catches of first nations fisheries at all. In New Brunswick, as an example of the angling fishery, less than 10% of anglers actually report their catch.
To manage in a precautionary manner, it's important to restrict salmon fisheries to in-river, allowing harvest only when salmon populations are known to be well above their minimum conservation limits, and to reach this goal it's important to utilize live release in the recreational fishery and selective trap nets in first nations fisheries. The quickest action that Canada can take is the decision to base harvest management on science and the precautionary approach and to ensure that management measures are upheld through effective monitoring and enforcement. At the very least, there should be no harvest of salmon for populations that are not surpassing their minimum conservation limits.
I encourage DFO to study Quebec's river-by-river management model and introduce a similar approach, perhaps on a pilot basis, on one or two rivers in Atlantic Canada as quickly as possible.
With respect to enforcement, effective enforcement is important to ensure that the benefits of increased conservation measures are not put in jeopardy and to protect the significant benefits to the economy of the recreational fishing industry. A recent study by Gardner Pinfold in 2010 determined that Atlantic salmon are key economic generators in eastern Canada. Gardner Pinfold evaluated the GDP value of wild Atlantic salmon in 2010 to the Atlantic provinces and Quebec at $150 million, $130 million of which was directly attributable to the recreational salmon fishery. Spending on wild Atlantic salmon supported almost 4,000 full-time equivalent jobs in 2010, and 3,300 of those jobs were in the recreational fishing industry.
Wild Atlantic salmon support important first nations fisheries, a lucrative recreational fishing industry, and important jobs in rural areas. From 1985 to 2009, there was a 75% decrease relative to inflation in DFO's budget for wild Atlantic salmon conservation, assessment, and enforcement—from $24 million to $12 million during that period—so at a time when our wild Atlantic salmon needed the most help, DFO had the fewest resources to do its jobs.
With respect to research and innovation—and Chair, Greg Roach spoke to the recommendation of the advisory committee on that—it's of the utmost importance to ensure that freshwater conditions are optimized to produce the largest number of young salmon going out to sea, the salmon smolts.
It's critical that Canada take the leadership role in initiating a multi-partner approach to researching salmon survival at sea and behavioural patterns of the species in its marine environment so they can better understand the effects of changing predator and prey behaviours and abundance, and the impact of climate change on production.
The survival of Atlantic salmon in the marine environment has declined significantly in the last thirty years. The poor runs of 2012 and 2014 emphasize the need to understand what's happening during the salmon's migration at sea.
ASF has been tracking salmon migrating from the Miramichi, Restigouche, and Grand Cascapedia since 2003. We have a well-established time series showing the migratory patterns of salmon through estuaries and bays as far as the Cabot Strait and the Strait of Belle Isle. The research is providing important data to guide management measures and is identifying critical habitat and situations like predation.
This work will be successful when we are able to track salmon all the way to Greenland and back. Expansion of this research requires an international effort and leadership by Canada and the U.S., working closely with Greenland, to expand tracking in North America and tagging and sampling at Greenland.
An important partnership that combines both restoration of wild Atlantic salmon in fresh water and research into marine mortality is taking place in New Brunswick under Collaboration for Atlantic Salmon Tomorrow, or CAST. CAST is an ambitious and innovative approach to recovering wild Atlantic salmon populations that is focused on the Miramichi and Restigouche Rivers. Utilizing state-of-the art assessment, habitat protection, research, and enhancement technologies, it is a blueprint for other salmon rivers.
I'll speak to CAST first, but if I don't completely answer your question, maybe you could rephrase it for me.
CAST, Collaboration for Atlantic Salmon Tomorrow, is a collaboration of industry partners: J.D. Irving Limited, Cooke Aquaculture, International Paper, NGOs such as the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Miramichi Salmon Association, the University of New Brunswick, DFO, the Canadian Rivers Institute, and others.
It is a program that is still waiting for funding. A lot of private money has been put into it so far. Hopefully, we're going to have some good news from the federal government and ACOA. It's a $15-million program over six or seven years. There are many elements to it. It's habitat improvement. It's identifying cold water refugia and protecting the cold water refugia. It's better assessment.
Then there is the innovative enhancement strategy that you spoke about, Mr. Finnigan. That is on the northwest Miramichi, which is the branch of the Miramichi that is in the most trouble, which two years ago met only 20% of spawning escapement. It involves capturing wild smolts as they leave the northwest system in the spring and holding them in the Miramichi Salmon Association's hatchery, growing them to adults, and then releasing them naturally into the river so that they run up and find their own tributaries and their own mate, the idea being that you bypass what right now is an exceedingly low at-sea survival. That's a new technology for a river such as the Miramichi. It's been done on a small scale in rivers where there aren't wild salmon populations.
You're correct. The permits to collect 5,000 smolts were given. There needs to be a very rigid monitoring assessment research program so that we know.... Everyone believes it's going to be a good thing, a positive thing, but there are still some unanswered scientific questions.
There's an expert panel that includes DFO, scientists, and geneticists from both sides of the Atlantic that will hopefully help us develop that rigid monitoring program. If it's successful, which we believe it will be, it could be a blueprint that could be used to help other rivers to restore their wild runs.
From a science perspective, I tend to try to simplify things as well as I can. It helps me think about things.
As I said, there's a broad science consensus on the threats in fresh water and at sea. With respect to what's affecting Atlantic salmon, there are many things we can do and are doing from a freshwater habitat improvement perspective. I think there's more that can be done, but that would be an enhancement of ongoing activities that are taking place, everything from individuals and community groups to NGOs and government initiatives.
I also think there are things we can do at sea. I very much agree with the sentiments that have been expressed that if there was one key objective, it would be to maximize the number of smolts that are entering the ocean. That's money in the bank, basically.
We can't affect, for the most part, what's going on at sea except by controlling legal and illegal fishing activities and by having more means of mitigating some negative consequences associated with aquaculture.
I would say, number one, I very much agree with that. Maximize the number of smolts emigrating into the ocean. The second thing, from an at-sea mortality perspective, is that we need to know when and where salmon are going, and where the mortality is taking place.
Mortality is the key thing. I think there are prospects associated with the tagging of fish and the monitoring of salmon that let us know roughly where they go, but we don't know specifically where they go. We think much of the mortality happens as soon as these salmon that are about as big as this pen enter the ocean, or within a few months, but we don't know for certain. That is quite a black box.
What do we do about it? I think that's a secondary thing, but before we can even contemplate what we might be able to do, we need to know when and where in that at-sea life cycle the survival issues are taking place.
During the meeting process, we had invited first nations and aboriginal groups to come and present, either directly in person or through written briefs sent to the committee. We had a very strong and very positive response in virtually all cases.
I think the committee observed that there's quite a variety among them, ranging from some really conservation-minded groups to ones that are a little more focused on the harvest of the salmon. To put it cautiously, in some cases the best practices weren't in place, while in other cases they were excellent.
We recognize the rights of the first nations groups for food, social, and ceremonial fishing, but we still felt we should put forward some ideas that DFO could put on the table for discussion points when food fishery plans were established.
One idea involves tending nets regularly. If nets are put out and not addressed every day, let's say, or every week, then the nets fill up and sink, and the salmon are lost. They're not captured and used as a food fishery, but they're still killed.
The positioning of the nets away from the river systems would more likely intercept migrating fish rather than local fish in the area. We spoke to that possibility.
There's also the idea of a takeout period. If there's a very strong run of fish going on or there are very large fish coming through, there would be a period when it would be critical to remove the nets so that the run could go through.
Another idea is using fish traps rather than fishnets. If there's an opportunity to successfully deploy live fish traps, then fish could be taken that would be of a size that would have a smaller impact on conservation. It would also avoid unnecessary mortality.
Those are some of the ideas.
In terms of the factors responsible for the initial declines, I think it's fairly well established that habitat destruction and alteration were of key importance. It was the placing of dams, erosion, and land or river use issues.
Number two was over-exploitation, both in the freshwater and in the marine realm. Compounding that, in some areas, such as the Southern Uplands, we had issues associated with acidification. There were at least, depending on the region, two or three things that led to the decline.
Then once population has been reduced to a low level, the question then becomes, what affects recovery? One thing that has helped is a huge cutback on the commercial fishery for Atlantic salmon, beginning in 1984 in the Maritimes and in 1992 in Newfoundland. Also in 1992 was the cessation of the cod fishery. There was a lot of bycatch of salmon in that cod fishery, so if you look at Newfoundland, you actually see quite a positive response in survival of salmon and in returning salmon adults.
This is why I caution that we must place our arguments in the region we're discussing. In Newfoundland, for the most part, with the exception of the Conne River on the south coast of Newfoundland, there has been a fairly positive response to reductions in fishing pressure at sea in terms of salmon productivity.
In other areas, such the inner and outer Bay of Fundy and the Southern Uplands, we do have the issues of an increased proliferation of aquaculture sites. DFO, COSEWIC, and lots of scientific evidence point to issues associated with aquaculture operations, because salmon are at such low levels of abundance. In other words, I think it's a fact that they're at such low levels that they have become more vulnerable to threats that much larger populations in the past would not have been so vulnerable to.
In terms of the key issues, one reason I quite liked your question is that it reminds me that one of the reasons I identified this mathematical model idea is that what we'd ideally like to do from a science perspective is partition or break up the survival of salmon throughout their life cycle and determine where the bottlenecks and problems are.
We can identify fishing, seals, habitat alteration, dams, the Greenland fishery, striped bass, and a lot of different things, but what we need to do is have those management decisions guided by science in terms spending a lot of money and a lot of effort on something that maybe affects half a per cent of the survival rate of salmon. Wouldn't we rather focus on something that affects 10% of the survival rate of salmon?
That's why I would make the recommendation—it's one of the themes in the back of my mind—that science can help inform management and political decision-making by identifying where the bottlenecks are and what could potentially be done. In other words, if you took some mitigation measures in one particular realm, what's the best that could come out of that?
There have been about 22,000 or 23,000 papers published on Atlantic salmon.