Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for allowing us this opportunity to present the views of the Miramichi Salmon Association to this parliamentary committee on wild Atlantic salmon.
The Miramichi Salmon Association was formed 63 years ago to try to be a voice for the preservation of Atlantic salmon, especially on the Miramichi River. Over time we have been quite effective in raising awareness of conservation, and raising funds to benefit the Atlantic salmon.
We are now in a position to be able to assist Fisheries and Oceans Canada in obtaining information on the status of Atlantic salmon stocks and participate in research with universities, government, and other non-profits. Moreover, we have assumed responsibility for the operation of Canada's oldest salmon hatchery from the DFO to stock salmon in the Miramichi. The MSA spends about $1 million annually in its conservation mission on the Miramichi, yet the salmon are still in decline.
The Atlantic salmon has suffered at the hands of man from the time European settlers arrived on our shores, and although we've come a long way in improving harmful practices of the past, we are still faced with global challenges such as acid rain and global warming.
The Miramichi River has been the great producer of Atlantic salmon in North America as a consequence really of underdevelopment in our area. There are no dams in the watershed, very little agriculture, no operating mines, and no large industrial polluters. The watershed is sparsely populated and is mostly forest land, so water quality is good, and if salmon can't thrive here, then there's no hope for the other rivers in the Maritimes that have far more problems than we do.
Salmon is king in our region and it employs an estimated 636 full-time equivalent jobs, which is like two medium-sized industries with over 300 employees each in a very rural area. It's very important to our economy. The citizens in our area are very concerned for the future of the Atlantic salmon and don't want the river closed to recreational fishing for salmon like every other river to the south of us in New Brunswick. The Miramichi is the front line in the battle to preserve the Atlantic salmon.
I worked for 18 years with DFO. I started my career in the 1970s in the Atlantic salmon enhancement unit, which no longer exists. Our job was to restore populations of salmon to rivers that weren't meeting their conservation levels. We tried to identify the cause of the decline and the possible solutions to restore the populations. For example, today the rivers adjacent to the Miramichi to the south of us, the Kouchibouguac, the Richibucto, the Bouctouche Rivers, have been closed to salmon angling for approximately 15 years and there is little if any effort on the part of DFO to do anything to restore the population. The salmon are not extinct on these rivers, so DFO is content to close the rivers and do nothing.
When this happens, local citizens can become detached from the river and the stewardship of that resource is lost. People will work for a cause if there is hope for success, and they look to government for the leadership to plan a recovery strategy.
The Miramichi Salmon Association clearly believes that any harvest of a species needs to be based upon abundance, but there needs to be community engagement to save a species. One way to do this with Atlantic salmon is to allow catch-and-release angling while the population rebuilds.
The MSA promotes catch-and-release angling on the Miramichi until stocks rebuild. Many people support this initiative, but some tell us that once you take the harvest away, you will never get it back and that if DFO ever closes the river to salmon angling, then it will be lost forever. This is because DFO has become a regulator only and has lost its capacity to direct recovery strategies, at least in our region.
We would like to see DFO add more biologists to its staff to regain this capacity. In this vacuum, a group called CAST has emerged to tackle some of the bigger issues for salmon recovery in our area. This coalition of non-profit groups, large industries, and academia has been formed to identify some of the larger issues and propose solutions that will complement the DFO response to the ministerial advisory committee report.
During a year of planning and discussing the required actions to restore the population by CAST, we could not get DFO participation at a meeting, as they simply said they didn't have enough human resources to send somebody.
The federal government should be taking the lead to recover the Atlantic salmon, but you're not alone. There are eager partners who have the expertise, dedication, and cash to support a federal government recovery program, and we are ready now to partner with you to save the Atlantic salmon. Please don't ignore us.
We understand that many of the problems facing Atlantic salmon are encountered in the marine environment, and MSA has partnered with the Atlantic Salmon Federation over the past number of years to put transmitters in salmon smolts and adults, to track their movements in the ocean to determine mortality zones. We would like to see a balance in nature where, for example, striped bass populations are healthy, but not dominating as they are now. It's the same for grey seals in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.
For river groups such as ours, there is always important work to be done at the local level. We have an issue with an invasive species in our area, namely smallmouth bass, which was illegally introduced to Miramichi Lake on the southwest Miramichi River. To eradicate this invasive species, we have been pushing for changes to the Fisheries Act to allow for the use of rotenone, a pesticide that will kill only fish in a body of water. Although these changes to the act are complete, we have been discouraged by DFO. While it is one of the largest threats that we have in our freshwater system, permission to use rotenone to eradicate this species is remote.
With climate change here now, we also need to create cold water refugia for salmon in areas where the water gets extremely warm. We appreciate the DFO initiative called the recreational fisheries conservation partnerships program, which can provide up to 50% of the funds for habitat-related projects. We are using this money to create these sanctuaries, and we plan to continue to identify potential sites and do the required work.
We took over the operation of Canada's oldest fish hatchery from DFO in 1997 with the mandate to stock the river with salmon, in a similar fashion to what DFO had done over the previous 100 years. Times change and new techniques need to be developed. We have consulted with other professionals and have developed a top team of research scientists to direct a newer technique, which is the capture of wild smolts, raising them to adults in the hatchery and then releasing them to spawn naturally in the river.
We understand there might be theoretical risks associated with this technique and that is why the scientific team has developed an extensive monitoring program to address these issues. We know this technique doesn't address the fundamental reasons for the salmon's decline, but if successful, it can buy time until these issues are resolved. It can also save unique salmon stocks from a particular river, such as DFO has been doing with its gene banking program at the DFO Mactaquac hatchery for the Bay of Fundy rivers.
We need a comprehensive recovery strategy to reverse this decline in salmon populations, and we are hoping that DFO will announce this strategy in response to the report by the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Atlantic Salmon that was tabled in 2015.
Thank you very much.
I'd like to thank the members of the committee, and in particular my MP, Pat Finnigan, for the invitation to appear before you today. I'm not speaking to you on behalf of any organization, but rather on behalf of the people of the Miramichi. We had previously been left out of some discussions that had forced a massive change in our relationship with the river, and so we very much appreciate the opportunity to address this committee.
The Miramichi has been my family's home for 200 years, and my family's work for 70 years. I have personally depended on the health of the salmon resource for 39 years of my adult life, and with my son now involved, and his two sons toddling about, you can understand why our family might take this issue quite seriously.
As a child growing up in my father's tackle shop, I encountered people from all over North America who could go anywhere they wished, but they chose to come to my river. That gave me an early understanding of how important the Atlantic salmon is to the identity of the Miramichi Valley and its people.
While I know that the scope of your mandate is broad, I make no apology for the narrowness of my focus. I've been called “salmo-centric” and, like the salmon itself, I am a product of my home waters, and indelibly imprinted by the river of my birth.
The Miramichi is not well served by a management strategy that lumps all rivers together under a blanket policy. It both needs and deserves a more targeted approach tailored to its particular set of unique characteristics. The Miramichi river system comprises of four distinct rivers, all of which have their own estuary and their own management challenges. It sustains a comparatively healthy and diverse population of wild Atlantic salmon, which, like all creatures, are cyclical in nature. Although the hatchery does play a role, it is not hatchery-dependent in the way we sometimes think of other rivers. It provides a thriving and challenging salmon fishery, which is a source of employment for some, a source of enjoyment for many, and at times a source of frustration for all.
It supports a highly developed angling infrastructure, which plays a primary role as a strong incentive for wise management of a valuable resource. It balances the interests of private riparian owners and their essential revenue stream with the local angler who has the river flowing through his bloodstream. It remains a persistently healthy watershed, despite concerns about encroachment by the forest industry. Its stellar reputation makes it a target for those who quickly exploit its name to amplify the shock value of any perceived downturn in salmon stocks.
The resilience of the Miramichi salmon run also makes it an attractive setting for those attempting to rescue or recreate a resource with some assurance of success. It enjoys a healthy mix of both one-sea winter grilse, approximately 90% of which are male, and the multi-sea winter salmon, about 85% of which are female. It has an exemplary record of practical management and selective harvest, which has only recently been disrupted.
Over the years, participation in the Miramichi salmon fishery has been based on an over-arching principle of mutual respect: respect for the value of the non-resident fishery and for those whom it employs; respect for the reputation of the Miramichi, which attracts visitors from around the world; respect for the salmon resource and its cultural and economic significance to all Miramichiers; respect for the rights of first nations to a sustainable harvest; respect for fisheries regulations based upon sound science and practical considerations; respect by residents for private property rights that limit access to the most productive salmon pools through riparian ownership; and lastly, respect by visitors and guests for the local resident fishery and its unique attachment to the salmon resource.
It is the dramatic decline in this respect, in consideration for the local fishery, that is the greatest concern to me, not as a businessman, nor as a fisherman, but as a Miramichier. This decline began to surface in the mid-1990s as the direct result of a number of factors, which I can outline later if you wish. It found its voice in a book published 20 years ago, which quoted one prominent conservationist as saying, “There isn't enough room for everybody who wants to go salmon fishing, and I don't know where you draw the dividing line unless it's the people who can afford to pay their way.”
In our store, we gradually began to hear talk of the need to release grilse, coupled with references to local anglers as “meat men” or “fish killers”. By 1998, a strategy of peer pressure began to invade the fishery, and lines of division were clearly drawn. Private lodges and clubs were encouraged, and sometimes bullied, into adopting live release of grilse under the threat of censure if they failed to comply. In 2002, the province introduced a live-release licence, even though people were already free to release their grilse by choice, and bound to release their salmon by law. In 2015, DFO finally bowed to this pressure and is now being urged to continue this zero-harvest strategy indefinitely.
Perceived threats can often lead to the sacrifice of real liberties, and when personal preference becomes public policy, thought is seldom given to the people whose lives are most affected.
Consider DFO's cavalier decision to ban the use of double hooks last year, which lacked any scientific data to support the decision. The cost to individual anglers was severe, and to fly shops like mine who employ people all winter to produce flies for sale in the summer, it amounted to a $17,000 uncompensated loss, literally overnight. Imagine our frustration when it was discovered, after the season, that a variation order was never written to enforce it.
In 2010 DFO introduced a mid-season ban on grilse retention for the Northwest and Little Southwest Miramichi Rivers, which was later expanded to a season-wide restriction. In the six years since, no other measures have been taken to help those two rivers, and no study has been conducted to show any benefit from this measure, nor has any been called for.
In 2015 DFO chose to extend this to the Main Southwest Miramichi, and this has produced a dramatic exodus of local anglers from our river and with them goes an astute level of surveillance, participation, and protection. This is only partially reflected in the 44% decline in resident salmon licence sales, but more starkly visible in the empty pools where local people normally gather during the most productive weeks of the season.
Miramichiers know a thing or two about salmon and we're not easily fooled. Miramichiers know that our grilse don't go to Greenland, but our large salmon do. We've been releasing large salmon for 32 years, but with very little exemplary value. When a bully steals your lunch, the solution is not to stop taking your lunch.
We also know that salmon don't feed in fresh water, so their willingness to take a fly is not governed by appetite. As a result, it's not uncommon to fish for several days without hooking a fish. Everyone agrees that angling is not the problem, but restricting it seems to be the only solution.
We know that angling interception rates are very low, and the percentage of female grilse is even lower, all of which underlines the minimal impact of permitting a grilse retention fishery. The Miramichi has traditionally been able to support this fishery, and there is no reason to assume that it cannot continue to do so.
We know that the estuary of the Northwest Miramichi is being used as a breeding ground for a rampant and voracious population of striped bass, effectively putting our smolts through a meat grinder before they even have time to face the challenges of the open ocean.
We know that DFO continues to squander a perfect opportunity to develop a first nations commercial harvest of striped bass contingent upon the elimination of monofilament gill nets and switching to the exclusive use of trap nets for grilse.
We know that every other threat, whether seal, striped bass, cormorants, mergansers, sea birds, Greenland, St. Pierre and Miquelon, gaspereau nets, or gill nets all appear to be untouchable. We have grown tired of being the only touchable, just as a dog grows tired of being kicked by a man trying to look tough.
We know that DFO has failed to provide accurate adult population assessments. Counting facilities are often affected by high water events and produce highly unreliable estimates of current stocks. It is a disgrace that the cost of new electronic counters must be underwritten by the private sector, but their sizable investment underlies how little confidence is placed in current stock assessment data.
We know that the desire to produce as many smolts as possible by over-saturation of the habitat carries with it a strong risk of diminishing returns. There is good reason to suspect that our poor smolt survival at sea may be related to increased juvenile densities at home.
We know that DFO fails to understand that a permissible harvest does not translate into an actual harvest. Unlike a commercial fishery, angling is based upon a voluntary response considerably less lethal in its method. Regardless of the number of tags issued, angler retention averages far less than one per licence.
Finally, we know that DFO seems to operate on the assumption that anything natural is good, and anything that is anthropogenic is bad. Forest fires are natural, but we still fight them. Diseases are natural, but we still treat them. Man is a steward of nature, not an intruder. This stewardship requires wise use and hands-on engagement, not distant worship.
Miramichiers lives are not enriched so much by monetary gain as by an attachment to nature that fastens us here despite efforts to peel us away. To casually disrupt this connection is no small matter and one that should only be taken with the great care and sound science. We have seen little evidence of either one, and on behalf of the people of Miramichi, I would suggest that it's high time we did.
Thank you for inviting me here today.
We're excited that you are studying the subject of wild Atlantic salmon. The Ecology Action Centre was founded in 1971, and is Atlantic Canada's oldest and largest community environmental organization. Our marine program began in 1995, and we continue to work towards the conservation of fish stocks with annual fisheries, and protection of fish habitat, largely in a marine environment.
As you are all well aware, Atlantic salmon are considered endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, with the inner Bay of Fundy population listed under the Species at Risk Act.
The work of the Ecology Action Centre on Atlantic salmon is very closely tied to our work on the impacts of open net-pen farmed salmon and trout, as well as our concerns regarding the approval of the production of genetically modified salmon, the first genetically modified animal approved for human consumption in the world. We are also concerned about the number of tidal barriers in Atlantic Canada that have further reduced available habitat for Atlantic salmon, particularly during spawning. Finally, we do not feel that the impacts of climate change have been adequately considered in terms of recovery of Atlantic salmon.
I will speak to the relative value of Atlantic salmon in Atlantic Canada, the threats to its protection/recovery, potential conflicts within the Canadian government, in hopes that this will lead you to take a leadership role in addressing the impediments to the recovery of wild salmon.
Economically, the recreational fishery in Atlantic Canada, which largely comprises salmon fishing in our rivers, is extremely important to our rural communities, as you will have heard from our colleagues from Miramichi. Using data available as of 2012—and we do intend to produce updated information in the coming months—it is clear that the recreational fishery for Atlantic Salmon is of significant economic value for Atlantic Canada. Data from Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick indicate that the number of jobs per $1 million of revenue is the second highest for angling-related industries, just after jobs for shellfish harvesting. I've provided a table in my speaking notes, which you're all welcome to have a look at.
The economic spinoffs are important to consider as well, as not only are there direct jobs, but spending in rural communities, through accommodations and meals, is also important, particularly in areas like the Margaree River in Cape Breton and the Miramichi in New Brunswick. The jobs per $1 million, as of 2012, for the open net-pen salmon industry, by comparison, were about 5.6 per $1 million, which is one order of magnitude less than those in the recreational fishery, which was about 30 jobs per $1 million of revenue created out of the recreational fishery.
There were over 900,000 anglers in Atlantic Canada with direct expenditures in 2014 of almost $600 million, as per DFO's statistics. As such, Atlantic salmon stocks are significant to our regional economy, despite the fact that there is no commercial fishery. Failure to work proactively to achieve recovery of wild salmon jeopardizes this important contribution to Atlantic Canada's economy.
It is interesting to note that the open net-pen salmon farming industry was, at the outset, seen as a way to reduce pressure on the wild salmon populations. However, it is now understood that open net-pen salmon farming significantly reduces the health and population levels of wild Atlantic salmon through a variety of mechanisms, including disease transfer, sea lice, and competition with escapees as a few examples.
A very recent assessment of open net-pen farmed salmon in Atlantic Canada by the well-respected and widely referenced Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program resulted in Atlantic Canadian farmed salmon being ranked “red” or “avoid”, largely because of their ecological impacts, as well as their management. The reason for the “red” ranking is largely due to the level of escapees: almost 70% of Atlantic salmon in the Magaguadavic River in New Brunswick are escapees, while in State of Maine, which has much stricter regulations through its containment management protocol, only 0.2% of its river salmon originate from those farms. Escapees pose ecological and genetic threats to the historically low wild Atlantic salmon populations, which are listed as endangered in Canada and the United States. This same review found that Atlantic Canadian farms use 204 times and 241 times, respectively, more antibiotics than comparable farms in Norway and Scotland, and six times more than in farms in B.C. Finally, the rates of infectious salmon anemia are still present in the Canadian Atlantic salmon, and pose threats to wild salmon, and sea lice loads are higher than industry-authorized limits.
From a policy perspective, it's clear that the Government of Canada is often in conflict with itself. Efforts to protect and recover wild Atlantic salmon, including through recovery strategies and action plans developed under the Species at Risk Act and through wild Atlantic salmon policies, are often in conflict with government regulations and efforts to grow the open net-pen salmon farming industry, which, as stated above, has direct and detrimental impacts on wild salmon. There need to be much stricter regulations and mitigation of threats to wild salmon, and the Canadian government should address this conflict of the same department being responsible for the protection of Atlantic salmon and the promotion of one of the greatest threats to wild salmon. Here, I'll also note that countries such as Norway and Scotland have also wild Atlantic salmon populations in fisheries, and their open net-pen salmon farming industries are much better regulated.
An example of this conflict would be the illegal use of pesticides by salmon farms in Atlantic Canada in 2013, which resulted in a $500,000 fine. Under significant lobbying pressure from the aquaculture industry in 2015, the government promulgated the aquaculture activity regulations, which exempt the aquaculture industry from Fisheries Act provisions that prohibit the release of deleterious substances into water frequented by fish, even though that step was opposed by scientists, fishermen, and conservation groups. They did this by removing the responsibility to enforce section 36 of the Fisheries Act from Environment Canada, and handing it to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which also promotes open net-pen fish farming.
From an economic perspective, there's a critical need to review all subsidies to the open net-pen farming industry, including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency bailout as a result of ISA and other disease infections. Bailouts to the industry in the form of so-called compensation cost Canadian taxpayers $138 million as of March 2014. What if this funding had been provided instead to restoring Atlantic salmon population? This would give some sense of the scale of the subsidy.
There is also a need to conduct a national review of leasing costs. Currently in Nova Scotia, the area on which I have most knowledge, the leasing cost per hectare is $12.18. I can assure you that this is an excellent deal and includes waste removal by the ocean, oxygen provision, and space for salmon cages. There's no terrestrial farming equivalent that gets such a good deal from the natural environment. Given the impacts of this industry, there should at least be improved economic benefits for Canadians, as the companies are using a public resource to subsidize significant private profit. If there were higher costs for leasing, that money could be put back into wild salmon conservation.
I would also like to speak briefly to the approval of genetically modified salmon in Atlantic Canada, to salmon egg production in Prince Edward Island, and to the government's decision to waive data submission on this risk to wild Atlantic salmon from genetically modified salmon. There was no public consultation associated with this decision and no engagement with aboriginal communities. While this decision was taken by a previous government, there is a need to review the decision, the science used to make the decision, and the public engagement in this globally significant decision. Scientists have raised concerns about genetic disruption, where escaped GM salmon could mate with spawning salmon. While the risks may be low, we do not know that, because the data was not made public. Even if mating is unsuccessful, in the small runs with few returning fish, it can endanger the survival of the entire population by removing a chance for successful mating of a wild pair.
My organization, together with others, is in the process of a legal challenge under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act regarding this approval.
Finally, I want to stress the importance of ensuring that provinces are fully engaged in the protection of wild salmon—particularly as they are responsible for the permitting and regulation of aquaculture outside of British Columbia—that they fully understand the economic impact of wild Atlantic salmon, and that the impacts of climate change are considered in all recovery efforts. We know that Atlantic salmon can be restored to our rivers and that the State of Maine has achieved recovery of severely depleted populations as an example. It will require reducing known threats, protecting habitat, and a dedicated plan involving all stakeholders to reduce risks to wild salmon and improve their survivability.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak, and we appreciate the standing committee's interest in this important issue.
Members of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, thank you for the opportunity to be part of your discussions regarding the Atlantic salmon. As a New Brunswicker, this is a subject of great importance to our province.
I am happy to have the opportunity today to talk to you about the future of Atlantic salmon.
By way of background, JDI has been engaged in scientific research for over 30 years. To date, we have over 30 students who have received their masters and doctorate degrees with the support of our organization conducting research on our timberland. These projects involve a wide range of scientific disciplines, including migratory birds, rare plants, mosses, large mammals such as deer and moose, seagoing brook trout and, most importantly to this committee, Atlantic salmon.
Our company's annual investment in research averages about $1.5 million a year. We have attached for the committee's information an overview of our current forestry research efforts. That's been given to the clerk.
Regarding today's subject, wild Atlantic salmon, the stocks have been declining for the past 50 years and 30% of Canada's east coast salmon rivers are not meeting sustainable spawning levels. In the case of the Miramichi River, which you've heard is the benchmark river for Atlantic salmon in the east in many cases, it has been three years since sustainable spawning levels were achieved, and only once in the past 10 years on the northwest Miramichi, which is an important branch of the main Miramichi River.
A 2010 Gardner-Pinfold study confirmed that the economic value of the Atlantic Canadian recreational fishery would be $150 million per year. This equates to approximately 3,300 full-time jobs, and in New Brunswick the economic impact was assessed at $54 million per year. In recent years most Atlantic salmon research has been left to a variety of non-governmental organizations such as the Miramichi Salmon Association, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, and the Restigouche River Watershed Management Council.
While these groups have done an excellent job, critical funding for research initiatives continues to be a significant challenge. Driven by the lack of government involvement in the salmon crisis, the Collaboration for Atlantic Salmon Tomorrow, CAST, was conceived in the fall of 2014. This effort is a combination of industry, 18 scientists, as well as a number of ENGOs. We believe that CAST is the most comprehensive group ever assembled with the goal of saving wild Atlantic salmon. The partners in this venture include Atlantic Salmon Federation; Miramichi Salmon Association; Restigouche River Watershed Management Council; J.D. Irving Ltd.; Cooke Aquaculture; John Dillon, U.S. chairperson of the Atlantic Salmon Federation; Canadian Rivers Institute; University of New Brunswick; and New Brunswick Salmon Council, as well as input and consultation with the aboriginal community.
The CAST science team is the largest ever formed to research wild Atlantic salmon conservation. This group's focus on six innovative research themes will result in over 25 projects to be trialled primarily on the Miramichi River system. CAST and our research initiatives should serve as a model for other eastern Canadian rivers facing the challenge of wild Atlantic salmon recovery. These projects will be completed over the next five years, with a proposed total project cost of $13 million of government and private sector contributions.
Phase one is $7 million and phase two is estimated at this time to be about $6 million. To date non-government partners have invested over $1 million, and we are currently awaiting approval of federal funding—meaning ACOA and DFO funding—as well as funding from the Province of New Brunswick. That funding will amount to $2.4 million from ACOA, $1.5 million from DFO, and $2.3 million from the Province of New Brunswick..
The six projects will include the development of a population and habitat data warehouse for fishery managers that will allow a consolidated view of all the science that's going on, which has been scattered and not easily accessible; innovative technology in sonar fish counting, which will give us a much better and more accurate inventory of what is going on in the river's population; predator studies on striped bass and cormorants; ocean tracking of Atlantic salmon to determine the potential causes of at-sea mortality; and thermal imaging of freshwater rivers to enhance cold-water habitat, as we're hoping to address the potential climate change issues. .
Last is a short-term program capturing seaward-migrating smolt, rearing them to adults, and releasing them back into their native rivers to spawn naturally, thus bypassing the high mortality now being seen during their transition to salt water. We will be stocking between 4,500 and 5,000 large fish going directly to the river to spawn. If you were looking at the natural return for 5,000 smolts, high estuary and at-sea mortality would be less than 100 adult fish returning.
Some of the projects we are looking at are cutting edge. For instance, on our ocean tracking project, we are working with the Lockheed Martin Corporation to find an innovative and cost-effective way to track Atlantic salmon to Greenland. That may be one of the most important ones, because we need to know where the inventory is and what's happening to these fish at sea.
To date, we have received very good support from both the New Brunswick provincial government and ACOA. There has been, however, an ongoing struggle to have constructive engagement from the regional DFO staff for the Gulf region, and I want to emphasize this. My comments are directed to that organization because I'm not familiar with other parts of the DFO organization.
This is particularly in regard to the Gulf region. They have been invited to attend numerous meetings over the past 18 months, but they have declined for one reason or another. This lack of engagement is not productive given that DFO is the ultimate authority on research approvals. We cannot afford to wait until the Atlantic salmon of the entire east coast are listed under the Species at Risk Act before we take action. A proactive approach is required.
It appears that the current federal strategy is to repopulate the river after the salmon population has disappeared, as has happened in many maritime rivers, rather than to study other approaches that might help. For example, CAST supports understanding the impact of raising wild salmon from local rivers to help repopulate the river, not as a permanent solution, but as a temporary one to increase the population.
In my view, what has brought CAST together to address the crisis facing wild Atlantic salmon is a shared sense of purpose, a vision for the future, and a willingness to act with urgency, based on good science. Our CAST partners have already devoted significant time, money, and other resources to ensure this initiative propels positive change in Atlantic salmon populations.
We applaud Minister 's recent announcement of $197 million towards freshwater and marine fisheries research. We are looking forward to seeing the details on the Atlantic salmon portion of this funding.
In conclusion, I'd like to make the following recommendations.
First, we need DFO Gulf region's immediate engagement at a local level, with a clear sense of purpose and urgency. This is a crisis. DFO will find a multitude of willing partners ready to engage on this effort.
Second, we need public accountability for DFO and all other parties who receive federal funding, highlighting clear, measurable objectives, with annual reporting on progress and executive summaries in layman's terms to engage all stakeholders, and a sustainability report on research results. This should not be done in silos. Performance reports should be consolidated by one party—maybe an accounting firm—to document and share the best ideas and avoid duplication of work and funding.
Third, in 1966 and 1967, recreational salmon anglers caught over 60,000 wild Atlantic salmon, and commercial fishermen harvested an additional 65,000 salmon from the Miramichi watershed. We recommend that DFO have an objective above the minimum population levels of Atlantic wild salmon. Today, the target is 23,000 large salmon and 23,000 grilse. Our CAST objective is to reach for a higher target and restore salmon populations to healthy, sustainable levels well above the minimum threshold to support a vibrant recreational fishery.
Thank you for this opportunity to address the standing committee on wild Atlantic salmon. Collectively, our efforts, with DFO leadership, will make a difference.
First of all, I can't give you a specific answer on how much of a loss there was. We had a fairly stable year last year, relative to 2014. Our business is fairly diverse in that we do mail order on a variety of things, such as fishing tackle, to people who fish all over eastern Canada. There are a variety of factors there.
The one thing that I would say I noticed was certainly the costs that we sustained as a result of the double hook regulation. If you are asking me whether or not a total closure would be more costly than the current levels of restrictions, then yes.
However, the cost that I am concerned about here is not so much an economic one for the business. I am concerned about the cost to the river. As Mr. Hambrook pointed out earlier, when you lose or disengage any component of the fishery, the river suffers. It suffers the astute awareness; it suffers the involvement. This is the loss that is more serious.
If truth be known, the local fishery, the local resident component, is a very small part of my business, because they are such good fishermen that they really don't need exotic fishing equipment. Therefore, as a purveyor of fishing tackle...it creates the illusion of being productive. Many of these fishermen are so good they don't really need expensive stuff. Our business is derived from a broader base of the fishery, which is less affected by this.
My concern is more one as a Miramichier: the loss of contact, the loss of local involvement, the people I see as I move about the community who look at me and say, “We are simply not fishing; we are not going to do it.” Particularly, one of the things that struck me—and I am trying to be brief—is that a number of women have come up to me and said, “I want you to know how much my husband misses fishing this year, and how concerned I am about the fact that the one thing he used to do for relaxation, after coming home from a hard day's work in the woods or at the mill or wherever it might be...he can't do that anymore. He refuses to do that because the fun has been taken out of it for him.” It is not that people want to harvest a lot of meat; they simply want the option of making a free choice when they go to the river, without having it taken away from them.
The whole nature of that approach to the fishery has changed. That change is more a socio-economic and cultural thing than strictly an economic aspect.
I'm not really qualified to tell you what tools they should be using, but I would say to look at what they're doing now and do something different, because it's not working.
What concerns me about Greenland is, first of all, that it's an opportunistic fishery, as you mentioned. They don't produce many fish, if any at all. They are taking the lion's share of eastern Canadian fish, and even some from eastern United States as well. It's a fishery that goes back to the 1950s. It's not rooted in aboriginal tradition. It's a crime of opportunity. It is a crime: it's an international hostage issue, essentially.
I think we've been a little too cautious. I read some of the things that come out of the organizations. I can find you quote after quote of our key conservation leaders saying, “We can understand Greenland because, after all, we're still killing fish in Atlantic Canada and we've got to stop killing fish in Atlantic Canada, and then Greenland will see what a good example we set, and they'll stop killing too.”
I don't think that's going to work. I think you have a bullying situation here. I think we've been spending so much time giving ammunition to the Greenland fishery, they're turning our own words against us. The reality is that the fish that we were taking in Atlantic Canada, before we gave it all up or were scapegoated, were [Inaudible--Editor], which don't go to Greenland. By everybody's estimation, they are far more inconsequential to the long-term health of the resource. But Greenland is taking those fish, those prime maiden female fish.
Something has to be done about that. I would say to call upon the Americans as well, because there's very good evidence to suggest that it was actually the U.S. submarines under the ice that found the feeding grounds of the salmon in the 1950s, and then announced to the Greenlanders that there was a lot of salmon feeding off their coast. Greenland, of course, took advantage of that. I think there's an onus upon the U.S., too. I've not heard a lot of calls for that. I do get a lot of advice from Americans telling us how we should fix it and all the sacrifices we should make. I would say, maybe they might step up as well.