Miramichi Association supports safe angling

Telegraph Journal
Monday, October 15, 2000

We wish to commend the Telegraph-Journal for the thoughtful editorials about Atlantic salmon fishing which have appeared on your opinion page over the past couple of days.

In the same constructive spirit with which we have read your comments, may we respond to your proposal with regard to salmon tags and a licence lottery.

While we respect your views that salmon anglers must share the blame and the responsibility for the state of the salmon resource, a great deal of significant progress has been made by the angling community over recent years to do just exactly what you are recommending; that is, to control the extent of recreational fishing opportunities in a rational manner to match the availability of the salmon resource.

There is strong evidence of this, as follows:

Where salmon runs in certain rivers have failed to support a recreational harvest under reasonable management criteria, then those rivers have been closed to all fishing opportunities, the main existing example being the entire St. John River watershed.

For many decades, in the interest of long-term sustainability of salmon stocks in all rivers, there have been established major stretches of totally closed waters which are sanctuary areas for spawning. These are located in the headwaters of rivers like the Miramichi (above the barrier protection pools at Juniper, Dungarvon and the Northwest), and the Restigouche (above key points on the Upsalquitch, the Little Main and the Kedgwick).

These closed areas constitute a major element in restraining the extent of recreational fishing opportunities within the province of New Brunswick, and justly so in the interest of conservation.

There currently are major areas of Crown angling waters that are managed in a tightly controlled manner to limit recreational fishing. Numerous Crown Reserve stretches are available to residents only on an annual lottery basis which strictly limits the number of rods for every given stretch every day.

Several of these Crown Reserve stretches have been further limited to hook-and-release only, such as the North Pole Stream.

Other major stretches of Crown water have been auctioned and leased on a long-term basis, and specified limits are imposed upon the number of anglers allowed to fish at any one time.

There are also many stretches of open Crown water, as well as extensive private ownership, where it is more difficult to control or limit recreational fishing access given the basic rights of all citizens to use and enjoy common public property or their own lands. However, what has been applied generally to these circumstances, as well as to restricted waters, is a season license limit for any angler of only eight grilse tags, with daily restrictions on the use of them.

The existence of the harvest tagging system, which was originally introduced in New Brunswick for the first time anywhere in 1980, ensures an absolute control on the number of tags issued and on the legal possession of harvested fish. Therefore, far more preferable than a license lottery, would be a reduction in the number of tags available on a seasonal or daily basis as conservation may require.

Unfortunately, the federal decision to remove the tagging of aquaculture fish several years ago seriously compromised the harvest tagging program; nevertheless, the tagging still works reasonably well in controlling the recreational harvest.

Frankly, we do not share your views about hook-and-release fishing, because we believe this approach has been well demonstrated as a significant solution to conservation needs, if not necessarily a perfect one.

The practice of hook-and-release has been promoted vigorously for years now, and is being used extensively by virtually all anglers as they seek to enjoy the sport of fishing in a spirit that is far more important than merely killing fish. It has now become almost a basic element in New Brunswick's angling culture that there is a double reward to be experienced by first hooking a fish and then returning it safely to the water.

While, as you suggest, there is some risk of mortality associated with hook- and-release fishing, it has been scientifically demonstrated to be minimal, perhaps less than five per cent overall, and can be made almost totally effective with the use of barbless single hooks and proper release techniques.

More and more, anglers today are using flies with the barbs crimped or cut off, and the result is not only safe release of deliberately hooked salmon, but also of accidentally hooked small fish. Furthermore, there are tight limits even to catch-and-release, only four fish per day in the regular season, and there is intense peer pressure to ensure that those limits are respected.

We also do not share your view that the number of angling participants must be reduced, as in your analogy with moose hunting.

Simply put, angling can be practiced indefinitely without killing the resource, whereas moose hunting provides no such option. In fact, one of the great values of recreational fishing is that it can be sustained as a non-destructive activity by any angler who wishes to do so.

Based on all of the foregoing considerations, we would respectfully submit that there is no real need to place all salmon angling opportunities on a lottery system.

In our view, it is important that open public water be maintained and that privately owned fishing rights be respected. If salmon resource management requires a reduction in tags for each license, then that flexibility continues to exist in the present system.

As we have endeavored to point out, the recreational fishery has been acting on the principles of your suggestions for more than two decades, and continues to move forward voluntarily with initiatives to cope with the serious state of the salmon resource.

For example, the concept of total watershed management is now being introduced on the Miramichi and elsewhere in New Brunswick, bringing together both federal and provincial authorities in concert with conservation groups such as the MSA and similar stakeholders.

There can be no doubt that further restraints will be introduced in the recreational fishery if the condition of salmon stocks warrants such action in a comprehensive management plan.

Miramichi Salmon Association