Within this issue there is a subset of four.
River-by-river management entails much more than the allocating of tags for Grilse retention on an individual river basis. To be sure, identifying Grilse harvest opportunities will be a big part of it, and undoubtedly this is what comes to mind whenever the subject of river-by-river is mentioned, but there is more to consider. The setting of river specific goals and objectives, laying out a strategy to achieve them, identifying the benchmarks that will be used to measure progress, the monitoring, protection, and research needs, the refinement of regulations, and the public outreach required to inform and build support are all components of a management plan.
The fact that DFO has never put out a river specific Atlantic Salmon management plan in its history speaks volumes about how it has approached Atlantic Salmon management in the past and the priority it has given the resource. Even for New Brunswick's two largest and most eminent rivers, the Restigouche and the Southwest Miramichi, no such documents exist.
DFO management as a cohesive and directive force is still quite rudimentary, so no one should expect to see detailed and comprehensive plans in the near future; but what is expected and can be delivered by DFO is a start. The need for a refinement of regulations to address specific management needs on individual rivers within the province has been highlighted again and again over the years and much effort has been expended without result. Witness all the effort that went into the "river classification" initiative of a few years back.
DFO must make a start on river-by-river management in 2017. It has the means (variation orders) and there are many issues to be resolved. One example being the current situation on the Quebec/N.B. boundary waters of the Restigouche and Patapedia rivers. One river, two sets of Grilse harvest regulations depending on which license a person has in their pocket. Such overt inequity has people simply shaking their heads.
Lastly DFO has to broaden its management perspective. Over time it needs to develop appropriate management plans for all of new Brunswick's Atlantic Salmon rivers – for each river that flows independently to tide water. Talking about "salmon fishing area" 15a or 16b has no relevance to those who want to hear about the Nepisiguit, the Bartibog, or the Tabusintac. These designations harken back to the days when DFO tracked commercial landings of Atlantic salmon and yet they still use them today to lump data. It seems they can't get over the impediment of "but we have always done it this way". Time for DFO to break with its conventions, to move forward, put a few words on paper on what it feels the management needs are for river X. It doesn't have to be elaborate but it does have to be done.
Of late there is this notion being promoted that since stocks are low on many of our rivers there should be no Grilse harvested by recreational anglers and that all anglers should conform to a strict catch and release philosophy. While catch and release only angling for Grilse has a number of benefits it is not a biological imperative; but rather a means of enhancing the sport in terms of fish availability. Our stocks are not lacking sufficient males, what they are lacking is sufficient females and this is the component of the run that must be the focus for managers. Since 1984 anglers have been releasing all MSW's, which are predominately female, while harvesting a small portion of the Grilse component, which are predominately male, and as such have been true stewards of the resource. They have been practicing selective harvest with only a minor impact on egg deposition.
Now however DFO has decided that it is necessary to have mandatory release of all Grilse as well as MSW's regardless of the status of stocks on a given river. With this declaration in 2015, and its continuation since then, they are sending the message that any Grilse harvest by anglers will endanger the stock. This is simply not the case. Do the math. The management of our salmon stocks must be driven by sound principals, not by ideological philosophies.
DFO needs to move towards the recognition that some Grilse harvest by anglers can occur and be forthright with the public about the contribution of Grilse with respect to egg deposition.
The presence of anglers on a river is critical to insuring local stewardship.
DFO has paid lip service to this concept but has kept the rivers of the Saint John system and those that flow to Northumberland Strait closed to all angling for Atlantic Salmon for two decades. Many anglers, and other conservationists, that are concerned with the future of these rivers recognize the need for local stewardship as being paramount and are advocating for catch and release fisheries to be reinstated. Having anglers on these rivers not only provides the watchful eyes but insures that the salmon stocks of these rivers will continue to have value for local communities and hence a future.
For those rivers still open for Atlantic Salmon angling, the loss in participation in the sport fishery since DFO implemented the mandatory release of grilse, dramatically illustrates the dilemma that DFO seems to brush off so lightly. By continuing the status quo while most are calling for the implementation of river-by-river management, including the allocation of some Grilse harvest where appropriate; DFO is disregarding the importance of local stewardship.
This issue lies at the heart of what ails DFO in terms of implementing better salmon management. The view that a "no harvest "recreational angling fishery constitutes an allocation, and as such, cannot be authorized if the conservation of a stock requires any constraint to be placed on First Nation FSC fisheries. It is a position apparently derived from an opinion DFO obtained from the Justice Department at the time of the Sparrow decision.
The opinion has never been challenged and unfortunately it drives DFO's management thinking to this day. This position, that catch & release angling is an allocation, is what drove the closure of the angling fishery on the Saint John, the Nashwaak, the Hammond, and the other forgotten rivers of the St. John system. Shortly thereafter it was the basis for the closure of the Northumberland Strait rivers as well. The courts have been clear that First Nations have "first access" and that is not in dispute, but the interpretation DFO has taken needs to be changed.
Without a change in perspective, this stance, that FSC fisheries cannot be managed while other fisheries are in place, if condoned and continued will ultimately force further closures over time.
There is a need to distinguish between "harvest" and "no harvest" fisheries. A "no harvest" angling fishery is just that – the small incidental mortality associated with the recreational angling fishery should not be considered an allocation.
Such a "sea change" in DFO's mindset would have far reaching positive effects for management and create the opportunity to reopen recreational angling fisheries. Consider catch and release as a conservation measure and the future for Atlantic Salmon holds promise. Insist that it is an allocation, close recreational fisheries because of it, and you destroy the value of the resource with only the poacher as beneficiary.
Anglers on a river provide the impetus for management and without them there is no future for a stock – the Saint John situation is a case in point.