At the end of May we collectively have the opportunity to look back at the previous year’s salmon runs and spawning success since scientific advice, either complete or at least provisional, becomes available.
In this week’s RIVERNOTES Blog we start with salmon and river conditions as we know them now. Then further down in the blog there are some of the numbers from the disappointing 2012 season.
On the Rivers – This Year
Last week provided widespread lines of major thunderstorms leading to high water on the rivers. But here and there hardy anglers, willing to work hard for an Atlantic salmon, have been finding success.
There are no official counting fence numbers yet, except for the weekly report on the Penobscot, and that on the LaHave River in Nova Scotia. We will provide reports as soon as they become available.
Overall, there has been an extended period of thunderstorms and higher water.
On the Miramichi, Keith Wilson said “the water is really chocolate brown right now, but there have been quite a number of large Rocky Brook salmon passing by. There was a nice 18-pounder brought in yesterday.”
He noted the continued thunderstorms, the latest being Monday evening, had brought the water levels back up, but it looked like levels would be dropping soon. “Like any June angling, it calls for an extra effort, but there are salmon moving.”
On the Nepisiguit in northern NB, Bob Baker notes the water is still too high to angle, and remained uncertain what the returns were like.
On the Restigouche, Bill Hartnett of the Restigouche Salmon Club was finding the salmon more exciting at this point.
“There are definitely more rods on the water,” he said, “just reading from the list of salmon brought to shore this past week, I see (among others), 38, 33, 22 and 25 pounds. The 38-pounder was on the 29th.
“The water is high, about 30 inches higher than it was previously, but the salmon are coming in.”
On the Grand Cascapedia River, Camp Brulé is reporting that the fishing is going extremely well, with the salmon now as high as the “C” sector of the river. More details on Québec rivers should be coming next week.
The Morgan Falls Fishway on the LaHave River as of yesterday had 20 large salmon and zero grilse.
The season started June 1 with water levels perfect and temperatures cool. The salmon angling, however, has been mediocre at best.
The Bay St. George rivers certainly had a few fish, some reporting seeing three or four. On Southwest Brook a few grilse have been caught. Someone else noted a 10 to 12 lb fish on the Grand Codroy. Also on the Grand Codroy one angler reported hooking three, and seeing others rise towards the fly.
Over on the Salmonier a few fish have been reported as caught and released. Overall, the salmon are not coming in early in large numbers.
On the Rivers – 2012’s Disappointing Returns
- In North America the minimum conservation limit was met in only 42% of the 74 rivers assessed in 2012, down from 67% of the 67 rivers assessed in 2011.
- In 2012 28% of the rivers assessed had returns less than half the conservation limit, a major increase from 12% in 2011.
- A 28% decline in return of grilse (458,000 in 2012) indicates unknown factors are increasing mortality at sea for these fish. In 2011 the return was about 640,000. The decline was felt especially in the southern range of the salmon.
- The return of large salmon returns in 2012 dropped 36% to 140,000 from 218,000 the previous year also suggests that broad-scale factors at sea are affecting both smolts and one-year-old salmon.
- In rivers of the open coast of Nova Scotia, in the Bay of Fundy, and Maine, the returns of both large and small salmon were among the lowest on record.
DETAILS BY NORTH AMERICAN REGION
- All seven assessed river in Maine were below 15% of their conservation limit.
- Penobscot – 614 salmon returned in 2012, an 80% decline from the previous year’s 3,092, and meaning that the river reached only 14% of its conservation limit
- It was estimated 2,056 large salmon spawned, 47% less than the previous year and 12% lower than the previous five-year average. A very small number of grilse – 24 – spawned, which was 98% lower than the previous year. Together these were among the lowest returns in the past 30 years.
- One of the three assessed rivers reached the basic conservation limit
- Estimated 2012 small salmon return of 172,800 was 36% lower than 2011’s , and the estimated 22,060 2SW salmon was 22% below 2011 numbers.
- Six of 14 assessed rivers reached their conservation limit
- 2012 estimated small salmon return of 242,300 was approximately equal to 2011 numbers and 4% higher than previous five-year average. The estimate of 3,329 Large salmon in 2012 was 9% lower than previous year, and 21% below the previous five-year-mean. (215)
- Gander River in 2012 reached 128% of its Conservation Limit, but this was still 10% lower than in 2011
- Exploits River had another large return, of about 31,000 salmon, but this fell far short of the 41,000 in 2011 and 45,000 in 2010.
- Conne River returns of small salmon increased by 27% but remain well below returns of the past 20 years. SARA has assessed south coast rivers as threatened, and a recovery potential assessment document has been created. More research to understand the plight of the Conne River is planned.
- 53% of the 40 assessed rivers exceeded their conservation limit
- The number of 2SW spawners (20,740) was 29% lower than the previous year and 8% lower than the previous five-year average.
- The estimate of 18,410 small salmon spawning was 34% below 2011 and 15% below the five-year average of 21,590.
- Grand Cascapedia in 2012 still managed to reach 254% of the conservation limit, but was down from 486% in 2011
- The Escoumins on the Quebec North Shore in 2011 had reached its conservation limit – but in 2012 that value fell to 56%.
- Miramichi – Preliminary data shows that in 2012 there were 13,630 large salmon compared to 34,090 in 2011, a 60% decline. There were only 8,010 grilse compared with 45,880 in 2011, an even steeper one-year drop of 83%. The number of grilse was the lowest since before 1970. With these low returns, the Miramichi only achieved 67% of the conservation limit.
- Restigouche – The Kedgwick, Upsalquitch and Little Main Restigouche all met conservation limits
- Saint John – The returns of small salmon (81) and large salmon (132) were the lowest on record.
- Nashwaak – Preliminary data shows this tributary of the Saint John River reached only 1% of its conservation limit in 2012, with returns of only 29 small and 61 large salmon, the lowest on record. In 2011 the excellent returns meant that in 2011 the Nashwaak reached 37% of its conservation limit.
- Magaguadavic – Along with most other rivers in the Inner and Outer Bay of Fundy, the river had few returning fish. There were two wild salmon return, along with 19 aquaculture escapees attempting to enter the river.
- Margaree – In 2012 it reached 113% of conservation limit, with an estimated 1170 spawners, In 2011 the Margaree surpassed 500% of its spawning requirement, with more than 6,000 large salmon and grilse returning.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ANGLERS
The unexpectedly low returns last year emphasize how important every spawning salmon can be. There will be swings in population as variables, known or unknown, bear on the salmon at sea. But every angler practicing live release helps Atlantic salmon recover from bad years, and surge ahead in numbers in good years. That Atlantic salmon you put back in the river is important.