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Migrating Atlantic Salmon Face a "Triple Challenge" From Unsustainable Fisheries
By Atlantic Salmon Federation
Jun 4, 2014 - 7:07:41 AM

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St Andrews, N.B-- The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) is very concerned that hard-earned conservation gains that have been achieved during the past decade, and have contributed to an increase in the numbers of large egg-bearing Atlantic salmon in North American rivers, are now in jeopardy. "Gill net fisheries for salmon at Greenland, Labrador and St. Pierre et Miquelon are growing threats to the survival of our wild Atlantic salmon," said Bill Taylor, President of ASF.

ASF is preparing for the annual meeting of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) to take place in Saint-Malo, France, June 3 to 6. NASCO agreements had complemented private sector agreements, involving Greenland fishermen, ASF and the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, to restrict the Greenland fishery to subsistence levels for a decade, but this came to an end in 2012 when Greenland began a salmon fishery to supply its factories.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has made it very clear that there is no surplus for harvest of North American salmon in mixed-population fisheries and that harvest of salmon should only occur when the health of all targeted populations is known based on scientific assessment. Any harvest should only take place in rivers where salmon populations are known to be exceeding their conservation limits.

The latest information from ICES indicates that Greenland's harvest rose to 47 t (14,200 salmon) in 2013 from 33 t last year, encouraged by growing sales to factories. This is the largest Greenland harvest since 1997, and 82% of the harvest are salmon from North America.

New genetic assessment indicates that the North American salmon that are harvested at Greenland originate from the Maritimes, Gaspe, Labrador, the Quebec North Shore and other regions, including the United States. "In the mix are threatened, endangered and at-risk Canadian salmon and endangered U.S. salmon, harvested to supply Greenland factories, open air markets and food fisheries," continued Mr. Taylor.

"In the same vein," said Mr. Taylor, "the number of large salmon harvested by Canadian First Nations and resident fisheries off Labrador continues to rise, from 4,228 in 2012 to 6,495 in 2013. These fisheries harvested a total of 37.5 tonnes of both large and smaller adult salmon (grilse) in 2013, almost double the total allocation of 22 t. A new genetics study confirms that these Labrador fisheries target mixed populations of salmon from various rivers as they migrate to their birth rivers within Labrador or to other areas such as Quebec North Shore, Newfoundland and further south."

In addition, a fishery at St. Pierre et Miquelon, a territory of France, intercepted 5.3 t of salmon (588 large and 1,764 grilse) in 2013 that were attempting to migrate to their home rivers in the Gaspe, Newfoundland, Maritimes and Quebec North Shore. This was the largest harvest since reporting began in 1970.

"These mixed-population fisheries are unacceptable human impacts upon salmon runs that are already suffering from habitat loss, interactions with farmed salmon, and changing environmental conditions. Harvest is one impact that effective government action can help solve," continued Mr. Taylor, "and there are steps that could be taken this year that would have an immediate and very positive effect."

The Greenland fishery should be limited to a subsistence fishery, which historically has been 20 t. Greenland needs to implement better management, regulation, monitoring and reporting on its salmon fishery. At Labrador, Canada needs to work with First Nations to satisfy their subsistence harvest through selective harvest, such as no netting when the majority of large salmon return to Labrador rivers and the use of trap nets to allow the live release of large spawners. There needs to be expanded assessment to get a true picture of the health of Labrador's salmon populations that are found in more than 100 rivers.

"Basing management decisions on data from only four counting facilities in the expanse of Labrador is far from precautionary management," said Mr. Taylor. The salmon by-catch in the resident trout net fishery should be eliminated or at least restricted to times when it is trout that is being targeted rather than salmon. The fisheries need to be moved closer to river mouths to reduce interception of mixed stocks. Monitoring and enforcement needs to be increased.

As far as the St. Pierre et Miquelon fishery is concerned, NASCO must make a bigger effort to get France to the table at its annual meeting to discuss ways to cut this rising interceptory fishery. "Hopefully, with the annual meeting taking place in France, headway can be made this week," said Mr. Taylor.

"These will be among the issues ASF, as part of the non-government organizations accredited to NASCO, will bring to the attention of NASCO," concluded Mr. Taylor. In addition to the meetings of NASCO's Council, the North American Commission, the Northeast Atlantic Commission and the West Greenland Commission, there will be opportunities to confront the special problems of mixed-population fisheries that take place throughout the North Atlantic at a special all-day session on Wednesday, June 4.

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