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2011 – A “Year of the Atlantic salmon”

Kype – the bone needles forming the structure of the kype and bulbous nose of the males is made from calcium reabsorbed from the scales by the Atlantic salmon – photo Tom Montgomery

In the Miramichi the Atlantic salmon have begun spawning, making this a great time to look back on the runs of 2011 and to celebrate the many rivers that have done remarkably well, especially with the all-important large salmon.

Have we turned a corner with this year’s high returns in so many rivers? Or will we be faced with yet other hurdles to achieving the  higher Atlantic salmon numbers that we all strive for.

What was different this year? In the rivers, somewhat higher water levels overall, and periods when water levels were high enough to discourage angling could make a positive difference in Atlantic salmon spawning numbers. The cooler river temperatures were also a major factor.

The combination of the Greenland Conservation Agreement, suspending Greenland’s commercial salmon fishery, combined  with increased survival at sea and, possibly, other factors has undoubtedly insured that there are more Atlantic salmon spawning this year.

A point about the video: As many viewers will know, precocious male parr that have never gone to sea actually fertilize many of the eggs laid by female salmon.  They  zip in to fertilize those females when the large adults aren’t looking. If you look closely at Manu Esteve’s video above, you can spot a few parr darting around the redd.

While the angling season is over in most areas, there are a few notes.  The first are about the rivers in Nova Scotia where angling is still in progress.

Nova Scotia

Margaree River, October – photo Gordon McGee

Margaree – Lewis Hinks, ASF’s Director of Nova Scotia Programs, was on the Margaree this past weekend. He reports the river was dropping to a nice level for fishing – and the angling was fantastic. He notes one party that had thirteen salmon on line in one morning.

As to the situation in the river overall, this will need to wait for the results of the various surveys that are conducted, but from anecdotal information it appears to be a good year.

Lewis Hinks also notes that great fishing has been reported in all these rivers, including River Philip. Last week the water was rising with the rain, and some bright fish were on line.  With the water now falling, it should make for excellent conditions.

Elsewhere in Nova Scotia the numbers remain relatively disappointing.

Sackville – The Sackville River Counting Fence had 10 large salmon and 38 grilse,  compared to 24 large salmon and 50 grilse in 2010.

LaHave – The LaHave had a more promising 74 large salmon this year compared to 52 last year, and 281 grilse, exactly the same number as last year.

New Brunswick

Northern New Brunswick Rivers – With the Upsalquitch at 649 large salmon this year compared to 410 last year, and against a five-year average from 2003 to 2007 of 311, there is good hope for the future. The Jacquet River’s 231 large salmon was somewhat lower than last year’s 293, but certainly bears up well when compared with the five-year average of 93.

For grilse, the 646 this year in the Upsalquitch may not have beat the 638 last year, but is definitely  higher than the 2003 to 2007 average of 487. Meanwhile the Jacquet River’s 348 compares favourably both with the 2010 number of 194 and the 137 for the five-year average.

Miramichi – The final week of the angling season was noteworthy for having a large number of fish, but most were not interested in taking flies. Water levels rose again, which was certainly to the salmon’s liking.

How to assess the overall season? That is not exactly clear. Returns of large salmon were generally in line with 2010′s numbers, but, on the other hand, as has been noted,, water conditions and the health of the Atlantic salmon certainly favoured the fish this year, leading to an expectation that it could be a year of high spawning success. Keep fingers crossed.

Saint John – The number of large salmon returning to the Saint John certainly was a highlight, with 624 at Mactaquac and 230 at the Nashwaak Counting Fence, compared to 362 and 126 respectively.

The point here is that the Saint John does have a future. It has major issues with dams and the problems affecting both upstream and downstream passage need to be addressed – no small matter. Continued improvement in survival at sea and a continuance of the Greenland Agreement would certainly be an important basis for restoring the river’s health.


Penobscot – The statistics page has been taken down by the Maine Government, but as of Oct. 12,  3120 Atlantic salmon had returned through Veazie. Certainly this is a remarkable return for recent years, making it the highest return since 1986. With Great Works Dam slated for decommissioning in 2012, we can see this is a return the Penobscot can build on.

Veazie – Penobscot Salmon – Oct. 7

Downeast Rivers – Returns, while low, still show promise. The Narraguagus had the best returns since the late 1980s, for example. Unfortunately more aquaculture escapees were entering the Dennys in October from some unreported escape.

New Hampshire

Merrimack – This great river has had a remarkable return of more than 400 Atlantic salmon this year, the highest number since the 1980s.


Overall, good river conditions and angling results throughout the season are pointing to a healthy increase in runs across Quebec that surpasses the last five year average.  We anxiously await the publication of final run numbers in late December.


Matapedia River, October – photo Charles Cusson

To September 30, for the season, a total of 2,089 fish were reported landed, including 326 releases.  River conditions were very good during the last week of September, but the high water, resulting from storms earlier in the month, scattered the fish and made angling challenging.  Angling results continue to outpace last season, 623 more fish were landed compared to the same date in 2010.



The Matane witnessed its best run since 1988.  3,155 fish had migrated (1,409 salmon and 1,746 grilse) through the fish ladder for the season ending September 30th. This represents an increase of 1,006 fish (77 salmon and 929 grilse) compared to all of last season.  1,117 salmon and 715 grilse were reported landed.  The cumulative number of releases was not available at the time this report was prepared.


Numbers should have been higher, but Mother Nature is the great equalizer.  In total for the season, to September 30, 1,184 salmon were landed and released, compared to 1,119 in 2010. Grilse captures are also higher, up from 433 in 2010 to 698 in 2011.  The Bonaventure was hit with “Moisie” like bumps in water such as the peak flow of 470 cubic meters/second during the second week of September.  This combined with river levels that receded at a slow pace impacted angling until the end.  Overall, an excellent year for the Bonaventure.


For the season at September 30, 436 salmon were reported released compared to 360 in 2010.  The number of grilse landed increased to 222 from 166 in 2010.  The Sainte-Anne was not spared from the torrents of water that fell on the Gaspé.  It is evident that the high waters during the month curtailed angling success, but just think of the higher number of fish in the river to spawn over the next weeks.

Dartmouth, St-Jean and York Rivers

Gros Saumon Pool, York River – photo Charles Cusson

Anglers were treated to June like levels of water on the jewels of the Gaspé during the last two weeks of  September.  Angling was challenging due to holding fences being washed away on all three rivers during the high water events early in the month.

This also made conditions for a final in-river count impossible.  Based on the number of fish landed, there are healthy increases on the York and Dartmouth and the  St-Jean is within the last five year average.  Overall it was a great season for everyone, more salmon in the rivers translated into more rod days being sold, more money for the local economy, increased 2012 business for local outfitters, more fish being released, happy anglers and hopes that this could be a sign of healthier runs of wild Atlantic salmon.


For the season, as of September 15, 257 fish (192 salmon released & 65 grilse retained) were reported landed.   These numbers reflect a healthy increase of released salmon (124 more than 2010) and a slightly higher number of grilse.  Great water levels overall during the season gave hope to the many volunteers who are working tirelessly to bring this river back to its former glory.


Godbout River – photo Charles Cusson

To September 15th, 413 fish were reported landed (183 salmon 54 grilse released) and 176 grilse were harvested.  This past season’s numbers reflect the type of increases reported across Quebec.  In 2010 a total of 172 were landed.  Migrating fish have increased also with 1,173 fish (694 salmon and 479 grilse) at the counting facility.  At the same time last year, 857 fish (550 salmon and 307 grilse) had gone though the counting facility.  2011 will most likely be remembered as a vintage production year in 4 to 5 years from now.


This small North Shore river also had a healthy increase in the number of fish migrating through.  At September 16, 376 fish (256 salmon and 120 grilse) were counted in contrast to 2010’s  228 fish (98 salmon and 130 grilse).  By mid-September, 110 fish (79 salmon & 2 grilse released, 29 grilse retained) had been reported landed.  In 2010, only 47 fish were landed which included 21 salmon & 7 grilse released and 19 grilse harvested.  This season’s good levels , compared to the drought conditions of the last few years greatly improved angling success.


This biological index river reported very good numbers this season, 1,180 fish (305 salmon and 875 grilse) migrated though the counting facility.  282 fish (64 salmon & 15 grilse released and 203 retained) were reported landed.
In 2010, a total of 803 fish were counted (255 salmon and 548 grilse) migrating through.  The number of fish landed was reported to total 122 (15 salmon released & 2 grilse released and 105 grilse retained).

Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland could be divided into three districts in 2011.

Everywhere but the South Coast and parts of the West Coast: Most of Newfoundland had a good year – almost as good as the banner 2010 year. The Exploits River was typical, with more than 41,000 salmon returning – only 10% below the incredible 45,000 of 2010. Many other rivers better the numbers for 2010. With two good years in a row, it bodes well for an overall uptick in the numbers.

West Coast – Rivers like the Torrent and Western Arm Brook experienced a decline of 20% or more for unknown reasons.

South Coast – The comparative lack of rebound in numbers on Newfoundland’s south coast is alarming. This same region is home to the province’s salmon aquaculture industry and whether or not there is connection, something is definitely wrong with the populations in rivers such as the Conne. This year 1,189 were counted; in 201p there were 1,747 and the five-year average between 2006 and 2010 was 2,084.


In Labrador there is a sense of relief – that river numbers have come up in an area that was declining recently. We can only hope those numbers continue to improve.

The Sand Hill River needs to be singled out for special mention. It went from 1,975 salmon in 2010 to 9,535 in 2011. There is no explanation for the massive increase, but at this time all indications are that the data is correct. This is

Gathering the Facts

From June to October we have seen a great number of rivers experience high returns of large salmon – those salmon that go to far ocean feeding grounds. Grilse numbers have generally not seen the same improvement. The scientific evidence points towards improved survival in Greenland waters, and improved ocean productivity.

2011 – A “Year of the Atlantic salmon”

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