– July 5th, 2017
The Coalition for better Atlantic Salmon management in New Brunswick (CBSM) is calling on DFO to reinstate Grilse harvest tags for the balance of the 2017 season.

In 2015 DFO imposed a blanket, province wide, variation order that set the daily bag limit for Grilse at zero. In effect, this regulation change stipulated that all Atlantic Salmon angling would be under a mandatory hook and release restriction. Anglers would no longer have the option of retaining Grilse. (Grilse are mature Atlantic Salmon that have spent just one year at sea. They are predominately males and are of a smaller size – typically 3 to 5 lbs.)

The change to a zero bag limit was in reaction to the extremely poor returns of 2014, and the broad sweep of the Maritimes-wide regulation was generally considered to be an interim measure while DFO put in place a river-by-river management system that would consider the status of the individual stocks.

In 2016 the mandatory restriction was continued with the angling community essentially being asked to bear with DFO for another year while they sorted out the details of the river-by-river approach.

The realization of that implied promise was widely anticipated for 2017, but earlier this year it began to look as though DFO would not come through.  Sure enough, at the 11th hour, the announcement came that it would be yet another year of status quo. The easy decision had been taken. In their announcement, the rationale put forward by DFO for continuing the Grilse harvest restriction was that they wanted to keep it in place “in order to maintain conservation benefits”.

Called upon to explain and quantify these benefits for the angling public, DFO has failed to answer. As such it has placed itself in a default position – unable, or unwilling, to provide the information and publicly demonstrate the benefits; DFO’s justification becomes suspect.  If the restriction can’t be supported, then the ban should be lifted.

Further, a recent comment made by the Minister in a June 14th Telegraph Journal interview where he reiterated that river-by-river management was the goal but cautioned that he could not guarantee that it would be in place even next year, only raises more concern that this “interim” measure from 2015 may be destined to be continued for a prolonged period of time.

It is widely recognized that a moderate Grilse harvest does not significantly impact a stock given that the great majority of Grilse are males and that anglers only catch a portion of the run.  Further, most anglers routinely practice catch and release and generally retain far fewer Grilse than the season catch limit allows.  What is important however, is that the opportunity to harvest a fish or two be there.

It is also widely recognized that resident salmon license sales are down considerably as many resident anglers no longer participate in the sport given that the opportunity to take a Grilse home is no longer there.  

Anglers are supportive of sound conservation measures and are not seeking to over exploit the stock; quite the contrary they want to see the stocks being well managed and they want to see the resource being valued at the local level. Local stewardship is a big part of resource protection and having anglers on our rivers is the key to that stewardship.

A new variation order is all that is required. The provincial tags are already in existence, having been provided with the license this year.  Let’s not sacrifice participation and stewardship just to maintain a largely symbolic restriction for the appearance of a “conservation benefit”.

CBSM contacts:

Tom PettigrewJerry Doak