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Atlantic Salmon Rebound

August 18th, 2008

After years of decline, wild Atlantic salmon rebound in eastern North America

FREDERICTON — After years of decline, it looks like wild Atlantic salmon are making a comeback in the rivers of eastern North America.

While scientists and anglers are tempering their enthusiasm until a clear trend is established, there’s no question this is a record summer for young salmon called grilse returning to home rivers after one year at sea.

“People are talking about runs they haven’t seen for a decade or more,” says Gerald Chaput, a biologist with the federal Fisheries Department.

On the storied salmon rivers of New Brunswick, heavy rains and high waters are providing perfect conditions for salmon.

“People are seeing fish and they’re catching fish,” says Mark Hambrook, president of the salmon association on New Brunswick’s Miramichi River, which produces more than 20 per cent of North America’s Atlantic salmon.

“What we’re seeing this year is an increase in marine survival. We don’t know why. There’s a whole new international research program gearing up to try and find answers about what’s happening to the fish in the ocean. But whatever has changed, the grilse are back this year, the numbers of salmon are consistent with other years and what we should see is a big increase in large salmon next year.”

The Atlantic Salmon Federation, a non-profit conservation and management group, recently released figures showing that salmon numbers are way up this season, from Newfoundland and Labrador to New England.

Roughly 70 monitoring sites across the region have reported some of the best returns in years, although the improved numbers apply only to grilse, not to adult salmon.

But Chaput says the high number of grilse bodes well for runs of adult salmon in coming years.

“There’s usually a good relationship between grilse returns one year and salmon returns the following year,” he says.

“This year salmon runs are average but if grilse have good survival, we hope that salmon will also have good survival and we’d see more of those next year.”

Although anglers and conservationists are rejoicing at the numbers this year, no one knows for sure why Atlantic salmon are suddenly on the rebound.

Sue Scott with the salmon federation in St. Andrew’s, N.B., says warmer ocean temperatures, successful hook-and-release programs and the easing of fishing pressure all could be factors affecting returns.

As well, restoration programs on some rivers could be clearing the way for salmon.

“It’s hard to pinpoint a single factor,” says Chaput, adding the answer to survivability lies in the ocean.

“Where the freshwater habitat is good and where the stocks have been holding their own, they seem to be able to rebound when conditions are good. But there are still some pretty desperate situations in the southern areas of distribution.”

The worst areas are the 32 inner Bay of Fundy rivers in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, where salmon numbers dropped from 40,000 to 200 in two decades.

In some rivers, salmon numbers plummeted to single digits.

Chaput says the outlook for those areas remains grim.

The salmon season stretches from early summer to the fall.

If you have any comments on Atlantic salmon issues and coverage, or would like further information, contact:

Sue Scott, V.P. Communications

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