05/02/2012 02:37 EDT | Updated 07/02/2012 05:12 EDT

Sounds Fishy? It's True: Salmon is on the Rise Again!


Government scientists have now provided data on the health of wild Atlantic salmon that agrees with anecdotal information from anglers who raved about the great 2011 fishing season. Experts have confirmed that many salmon populations met, or exceeded their minimum conservation requirements in 2011. This bodes well for both the restoration of Atlantic salmon runs, and further stimulation of the strong economic upswing in recreational salmon fishing that was experienced in 2010 and 2011.

More anglers were drawn to cast for salmon along the shores of rivers throughout Atlantic Canada, and Quebec in 2010 and 2011. With more salmon anglers come more spending, and more employment in river communities. Salmon angler numbers rose from 42,000 in 2005 to 54,000 in 2010. Gardner Pinfold Consulting Economists of Halifax reported that these anglers spent more than $128 million, and supported just over 3,300 full-time equivalent jobs, primarily in rural areas where employment opportunities are often scarce. In all, about 9,200 people benefited from seasonal wages in the recreational salmon fishing industry in 2010.

It is now up to provincial, and federal governments to recognize the salmon's economic value, and provide adequate funding for restoration, and protection to ensure that the benefits of this green, sustainable industry continue. Gardner Pinfold reported that Fisheries and Oceans Canada spends $12 million on wild Atlantic salmon annually, compared to $15.7 million spent by non-government organizations that also contribute another $12 million in-kind in the form of volunteer labour in restoring salmon, and their habitat.

An important reason for the upsurge in wild Atlantic salmon numbers includes a conservation agreement that the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF), headquartered in New Brunswick, and the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF) of Iceland negotiated with Greenland's commercial fishermen to suspend their commercial fishery that harvests North American salmon on their ocean feeding grounds. NASF and ASF provide grants to the Greenlanders for turning in their commercial salmon nets to engage in more sustainable fisheries and employment.

Canada's 2011 Atlantic salmon runs have improved because of these investments. Some of the highlights of the scientific data now available are:

In Newfoundland, the Gander, Middle and Campbellton rivers all exceeded conservation requirements, the Campbellton by 495 per cent. The Torrent River on the Northern Peninsula reached 867 per cent of its conservation requirement. The Exploits River had a run of 41,000 salmon, an incredible improvement from the 1,500 salmon that existed when an enhancement program began in in the 1970s. In Labrador, the few rivers that are assessed by the government all met spawning requirements, the Sandhill by 204 per cent.

In Nova Scotia, the Margaree River met its spawning requirement by more than 500 per cent, and the River Philip had the largest run since 1984.

In New Brunswick, approximately 80,000 salmon returned to the Miramichi River system last year. The Southwest Miramichi met 220 per cent of its spawning requirement and the Northwest about 108 per cent. The Restigouche also more than met its spawning targets. The Little Main Restigouche doubled its previous five year average while the Matapedia, a tributary on the Quebec side, met 213 per cent of spawning targets.

Approximately 17,700 salmon returned to Quebec's Gaspé rivers; 21 per cent more than 2010 and 49 per cent more than the average number from 2006 to 2010. These good runs, combined with excellent fishing conditions, drew anglers from near and far, resulting in a record number of rod days for the Gaspé Peninsula.

Gardner Pinfold determined that a Canadian government investment of only $15 million per year would realize a return on investment within six years because of increased angler participation. The Gardner Pinfold Study also determined that more than 80 per cent of the general public surveyed in the Atlantic provinces and Quebec wanted to see healthy salmon populations, and they were willing to pay more in taxes, up to $105 million annually, to ensure the future survival of Atlantic salmon.

This upsurge in salmon returns of the past two years is very encouraging, and we must make the most of this momentum towards achieving the healthy runs of the past. The numbers of wild Atlantic salmon are still only a fraction of what they were 30 years ago. Restoration relies on government recognition of the economic and cultural value of this iconic species, and of their mandate to fund viable conservation and protection programs.