Setting the 2012 Salmon Scene

In New Brunswick, the Atlantic salmon angling season has already begun, with large Atlantic salmon that over wintered in rivers, like the Miramichi, as the objects of attention.

Satellite Tag Installed on Friday, April 28, 2012

This is also a time when ASF research staff is busy from sun-up to sundown. On Friday, the crew worked with anglers on the Miramichi to bring in large salmon. Some were implanted with acoustic transmitters that will allow ASF to follow their migration out to sea – and in many cases all the way through the Strait of Belle Isle, and on towards Greenland.

Also, this year, a number of satellite tags are being attached to kelts.  After five months these will “pop off” the Atlantic salmon and transmit their data of temperature, depth and movements to satellites far above. It will help scientists understand their movements better, and which ocean feeding grounds they are using.

The mood is definitely upbeat, based on data being analyzed by scientists regarding last year’s returns. Below is a sample of this fascinating information.

Nova Scotia

For the Northumberland Strait rivers as well as those in Cape Breton entering the Gulf of St. Lawrence, like the Cheticamp and the Margaree, 2011 saw the most large salmon return since the series of data began in 1984.

Margaree River, October - photo Gordon McGee

Preliminary analysis shows the Margaree itself had in excess of 5,000 large salmon and over 1,000 grilse. That is more than five times the basic conservation requirement of 1,036 salmon.

It was also a year in which many Atlantic salmon were caught. Both the River Philip and the West River Antigonish had the highest catches since 1984.

In Cape Breton, the North River had great numbers, as did the Middle and Baddeck rivers.

The Lahave did not rebound to the same degree in 2011, but there were 74 large salmon, more than in the previous year, as well as 281 grilse.

The St. Mary’s met 11% of its basic requirement in 2010, but water levels and debris played havoc with counts in 2011. Anecdotal information said that more salmon than in past years had been spotted as they migrated upstream.

Together with the large and growing population of parr in the West River – Sheet Harbour, there is a definite optimism going into 2012.

New Brunswick

Main Southwest Miramichi on a Summer Morning

For the Miramichi in 2011, it was definitely an exceptionally good year for large salmon. Preliminary data shows we had 34,090 large salmon compared to 2010, when half that number, 17,970 large salmon, were recorded. There were also 45,880 grilse, which was moderately down from 52,730. For the river’s future runs, the large salmon are most important, and that was where the strength lay.

As a result, the spawning escapement for the Southwest Miramichi was 220% and 108% for the Northwest Miramichi.

April 15 – Season Began

It would seem the number of Atlantic salmon overwintering successfully in the Miramichi was also greater than in recent years. Whether it was the Northwest, Cains, Main Southwest or elsewhere, Atlantic salmon were found. Water levels were low on opening day but came up during the week. Now with major rain levels will be high and undoubtedly murky.

Restigouche Region

The Restigouche and nearby rivers in both New Brunswick and Quebec also had a great year. The Upsalquitch had 649 large salmon in 2011 compared to 410 in 2010. The Jacquet River return of 231 large salmon was slightly disappointing, when compared to 2010’s 293, but was still far above the five-year average of 93, and perhaps indicates a very promising longterm improvement. The Little Main Restigouche had double the previous 5-year average, the Patapedia had 92% more spawners, and the Matapedia spawners were upa a spectacular 213% over the previous 5-year average.

Anecdotal information last autumn talked about the largest recorded catches of Atlantic salmon in many years. In the case of Larry’s Gulch, it was the largest since 1946.

The fact that lodges such as Larry’s Gulch have gone entirely live release, and more anglers are following live release practices, plus the impact of the Greenland Agreement to forestall commercial harvests,  along with probable improved health of the ocean ecosystem are working together to see these greatly needed increases.

Meanwhile, for the Saint John River system numbers are still being analyzed, but it looks like the Nashwaak may have attained 30% of its basic conservation need. A long way to go yet to see these rivers associated with the Saint John healthy and self-supporting.

Québec

The province has provided excellent information on the 2011 Atlantic salmon returns, and, except in a few cases, those returns could be called spectacular.

In Gaspé, the results, except for the Pabos rivers, was truly exceptional.

Bonaventure    126%
Petite Cascapedia    126%

Bonaventure Salmon 2011 - Released

Grande Cascapedia    488%
Nouvelle    19%
Dartmouth    272%
York    201%
St-Jean    176%
Malbaie    224%
Grande Riviere    153%
Petit Pabos    56%
Grand Pabos    76%
Grand Pabos Ouest    288%
Port Daniel Nord    160%
Cap Chat    189%
Sainte-Anne    336%
Madeleine    177%

Release, Ledge Pool, Grand Cascapedia on June 30 - photo by Dan Greenberg

To have the Grande Cascapedia reaching 488% of basic conservation requirements is to see a relatively secure future for salmon in this river.

For other regions, check out the table below, gleaned from the report. In each case the first number is the Zone, followed by the river’s name, then the percent of basic conservation level achieved in 2011, followed by that of 2010. In a few cases there was no assessment available for 2010.

Zone 05 is the Saguenay region, Zones 06 to 09 are progressively further eastward on the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence towards the Labrador border, and Zone 10 is Anticosti Island.

05 – Jacques Cartier – 59% – up from 27%

05 – Malbaie – 55% up from 49%

06 – North Shore St-Jean 329% vs. 185%

06 – Mars – 150%,  up from 38%

06 – Ste-Marguerite – 183%, up from 98%

07 – Escoumins – 103% vs. 39%

Godbout River - Deeply Embedded - photo Charles Cusson

07 – Godbout – 109% vs. 85%

07 – La Trinité – 152% up from 123%

07 – aux Rochers – 225% vs 176%

09 – Vieux Fort – 1,627% with no figure for 2010

10 – La Chaloupe – 243%, no figure for 2010

10 – Ferrée – 185%, no figure for 2010

10 – Jupiter – 75% down from 145%

10 – MacDonald – 46%

10 – La Patate – 319%

10 – Vauréal – 173%

As can be seen, overall, these are great improvements in returns and that applies to some of the rivers on the island of Anticosti, where populations have been assessed as endangered by COSEWIC.

Newfoundland & Labrador

In Newfoundland, it appeared there was a great run in 2011 that builds on the equally or perhaps better run of 2010. Taken together it bodes very well indeed for the future.

Leaping Salmon on Big East River, near Hawke Bay, NL

The Exploits River likely remains the greatest of Newfoundland and Labrador salmon rivers, with 41,000 salmon returning in 2011 and 45,000 the year before. But elsewhere on the island other major rivers, including the Humber, did well this year.

Preliminary scientific reports on to what extent the Atlantic salmon populations of assessed rivers met conservation requirements in 2011 are encouraging.  Rivers like the Gander, Campbellton and Middle in Newfoundland exceeded conservation requirements, the Campbellton by as much as 495%.  The Torrent River on the Northern Peninsula met spawning requirements by a whopping 867%.

The rivers in Labrador also did well in the banner year, but the Sand Hill River takes the prize, with an increase to 9,535 counted salmon from 1,975. That resulted in it reaching 204% of conservation requirements.

Maine

The return of more than 3,100 Atlantic salmon through Veazie Dam marked a spectacular milestone. It was the best year for salmon returns since 1984.

Great Works Dam on Penobscot To Go In June

And now, in the months ahead in 2012, we can look forward to the removal of one of the major obstacles to Atlantic salmon migration, the Great Works Dam. The Atlantic Salmon Federation and its partners, including the power generation company, have worked for more than a dozen years to see this program reach fruition.

While the initial part is the removal of Great Works Dam, Veazie Dam will also be removed, and a new natural water ramp will be built around a third dam at the mouth of the tributary Piscataquis River.

What Next

The consistently high water levels and reasonable water temperatures certainly helped in 2011. While we wait to see what comes our way in 2012, we ought to give the prize for “most improved” to the Sand Hill River in Labrador, with a 483% increase in returns in 2011.We would love to see more rivers like the Sand Hill.

Kelt with Satellite Tag Deployed

And for the kelts heading out to sea with their transmitters on board, we hope their journey a safe one.

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