Atlantic Salmon Holiday Update

Fishing Friends – this is just a quick note over the holidays to let you know about a few things that are going on with Atlantic salmon on the Miramichi.

Of whom and when was this picture taken?  Read below to find out.

 

First, here is a recent e-mail from Miramichi Salmon Association announcing their Boston Dinner on Saturday, Feb. 3. This is an important dinner for several reasons.  It raises needed funds for the MSA’s important, boots-on-the-river-bank conservation work.  Also, this is the big event of the year in the USA, and it is an important gathering of folks not only from America, but also coming down here from New Brunswick.  These are some of the most dedicated people in Miramichi salmon fishing, and I find it a very friendly and informative gathering.  It is also an annual mile stone in that it brings us past the half way point from the beginning of winter until ice out on the Miramichi and the start of spring salmon fishing.

One of the things that sets this dinner apart from others I go to is that in the afternoon there is a symposium on Atlantic salmon conservation with three presentations. The ones scheduled for this year are the most important that I have seen in some time.  They are described below in some detail. The debate over the CAST program is one of the biggest ones of our time, and I look very much look forward to hearing Dr. Linnansaari’s presentation.    Please put this important event on your calendar and order your tickets today.

 

64th MSA Annual Boston Dinner – Saturday, February 3, 2018– Burlington, MA

The 64th Annual Boston Dinner and Symposium will be held Saturday, February 3rd. On this occasion, you will be joining fellow anglers, conservationists and honoring John Gerstmayr, a MSA (US) board member who was instrumental in incorporating the MSA (US). The only fundraiser in the US, the Boston Dinner is essential to MSA conservation goals. Goods and services include original art by renowned artists, John Swan, Audrey Prucnal and Luther Hall, prime Miramichi angling trips, fishing gear, outdoor clothing, home accessories, and crafts.

You can also learn about the MSA’s salmon advocacy programs, including ocean tracking of smolt and kelt, cold water pool enhancement, and programs for educating the public about the Atlantic Salmon and its place in the ecosystem.

The event begins at 2:00 with our Symposium, where guests can learn the latest updates pertaining to the Miramichi and other important angling and conservation topics. Confirmed presentations include:

  • Addressing Salmon Stocking Concerns from “Kicking the Habit” The Atlantic Salmon Journal, Autumn 2017. Tommi Linnansaari, Ph.D. in Biology-Canadian Rivers Institute (CRI), University of New Brunswick (UNB) and CRI, CAST, UNB Atlantic Salmon Research Chair is a fish ecologist with 20 years of experience in Atlantic salmon research across four countries. This past fall the ASJ posted an article, “Kicking the Habit”, highly critical of hatchery stocking and the CAST program. In fact, both can be effective for enhancing salmon populations, and as tools for research. Dr. Linnansaari will address inaccuracies in the article’s facts and arguments, and advocate for stocking and CAST.
  • Re-wilding the Hatchery: A Five Year Test of the Peter Gray-River Tyne Method on the East Machias River. Dwayne Shaw, Executive Director, Downeast Salmon Federation (DSF) will speak on the DSF’s effort to restore salmon in the United States using hatchery methods, pioneered by Peter Gray, that successfully revived the salmon stocks of England’s River Tyne.
  • Screening of the Documentary, “Atlantic Salmon – Lost at Sea!” With an introduction by its creator, Deirdre Brennan, Lost at Sea takes the viewer on the salmons’ voyage from the rivers of Europe and North America to their arctic feeding grounds, and addresses the mystery of why so many die before they can return to spawn. In making the film, Ms. Brennan benefited from the latest tracking technology, had unique access to the Salmon at Sea (SALSEA) program coordinated by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization, and scientists worldwide.

Activity continues with a reception and silent auction at 5:00. Enjoy hors d’oeuvres and drinks, swap stories with other fishers and conservationists, and compete for the terrific items in our silent auction. (Visit the MSA website often for updates to the list of silent and live auction offerings.) Dinner will be served at 7:00, followed by the live auction.

As in the past, this event will be held at the Burlington Marriott in Burlington, Massachusetts (near Boston). Tickets can be purchased for $175.00 U.S. per person, $325.00 for a couple, and $110 for guests less than 35 years of age.

Invitations were mailed on December 21st. To make dinner reservations or get additional information: In US, call the MSA (US) office: (781) 397-8870 or e-mail; msa@guildassoc.com

In Canada, e-mail or call Nola Chiasson, Miramichi Office at (506) 622-4000; or email nola@miramichisalmon.ca

PLEASE NOTE:  Hotel reservations at the Boston Marriott Burlington may be made by calling (888) 855-7741 for a reduced rate of $125 no later than January 15, 2018. Tell them you are with the Miramichi Salmon function.

How many of you know where this picture was taken?  Look just below to find out.

Now, here is the information on these pictures!

I want to share one find that I came across. Actually Jim Corrigan, who has been living out west, but will soon be retiring to Blackville, found this on e-bay and kindly let me know about it. The items were a small collection of glass, hand-colored, slides taken by a photographer for the Boston Maine railroad. The pictures were advertised as being of the Cains River in the very early part of the 20th century. To my surprise I recognized immediately the location as the mouth of the Sabbies River where Seabury Stanton built his famous camp in the late 1930s.

I also thought that I recognized from the first picture above, as an older man in the Salmon Hall of Fame, Charlie Wade, founder of Wades Fishing Lodge on the Miramichi. I believe that he is about 20 years old in this picture that I would date as 1920. His grandson’s verified that this was Charlie’s photograph.  I believe the other man shown just above is the senior guide. I don’t know what his name is – but would love to! These men were fishing for black salmon – kelts – clearly much later in the spring than it is done today.  These two as well as the other photos will be illustrations in the new book to be out next winter.

 

 Announcing On the Cains: the Miramichi’s Great Fall Run Salmon River

I have been urged by a couple of friends to write another book about Atlantic salmon, and I have been pondering for some time exactly what subject I would find the most interesting to dig into. I just kept coming back to the Cains. I’m intrigued by the mysterious make-up of the Cains. The complex nature of the salmon run, which in almost all years is truly a late season run, its population of big sea-run brookies, the fact that the Cains has somehow clung to its wilderness status, the unusual, boggy headwaters make up that gives the river its tannic colors, its failed history of human development and high percentage of public waters, and much more, make the Cains a compelling story for me, and one that hasn’t been worn out in the telling.

I’ve spent a good amount of time each week since mid-November on research. Information doesn’t exist in the volumes that it does on the Miramichi, but it is there, and I have been having some great fun digging it up. I’ve also begun to interview people who have had a close association with the river. If you know someone who you should think I should be talking to, or you have some interesting information about the Cains that you’d like to share please contact me.

Now, here is the information on those pictures!

I want to share one find that I came across. Actually Jim Corrigan, who has been living out west, but will soon be retiring to Blackville, found this on e-bay and kindly let me know about it. The items were a small collection of glass, hand-colored, slides taken by a photographer for the Boston Maine railroad. The pictures were advertised as being of the Cains River in the very early part of the 20th century. To my surprise I recognized immediately the location as the mouth of the Sabbies River where Seabury Stanton built his famous camp in the late 1930s.

 

I also thought that I recognized from his picture as an older man in the Salmon Hall of Fame, Charlie Wade, founder of Wades Fishing Lodge on the Miramichi. I believe that he is about 20 years old in this picture that I would date as 1920. His grandson’s verified that this was Charlie’s photograph.  I believe the other man is the senior guide. I don’t know what his name is – but would love to! These men were fishing for black salmon – kelts – clearly much later in the spring than it is done today.  These two as well as the other photos will be illustrations in the new book to be out next winter.

Also, this winter, I’m restoring a 20-foot Chestnut Ogilvy v-stern canoe.

This boat too has a Cains River fishing history. Jason Curtis’s grandfather John was a salmon guide, and then an outfitter in his own right for many years on the Miramichi and Cains Rivers. In the 1950s he bought 6 of these canoes and used them for many more years in his business. Years later, Jason learned to handle a canoe and fish the Miramichi and lower Cains from this boat. Jason went to work at Wade’s Fishing Lodge where he became the general manager and bought his own 26’ Sharpe. The retired Chestnut sat out in a field near Jason’s house for many years. After seeing the two 22-foot Chestnuts that my brother – also named Jason – and I restored, he gave me this one to save it from further deterioration. It has been hanging in my garage for 15 years, but now we are moving forward with its restoration. I’ve got it cleaned up and pretty much apart now, and this next week we are going to start putting it back together. I made a trip to Northwood’s canoe in Atkinson, Maine last week where I bought a supply of new ribs, planks, some spruce for new rails, ash for thwarts, and lots of various hardware fasteners. We already have a nice piece of oak for the keel, so we are ready to go to work! Jason Curtis e-mailed me to say that he can’t wait to pole the old canoe again.

 

70 year old 20′, v-stern, Ogilvy Chestnut lowered down from 15 years hanging from the ceiling.

Same boat, work needed, but not in bad shape.

Don’t forget to sign up for that dinner. If you like Atlantic salmon and salmon fishing, you will have a great time.

25 Comments on “Atlantic Salmon Holiday Update

  1. Hi Brad
    I’m going to try to make it to that dinner just to hear the other side of the story on the CAST stocking program. The scientist who wrote the article in the ASF journal presented at our NYC board meetings in November and he was very convincing even when grilled with questions afterwards.I have always been a believer in “wild is better” especially when the subject is a river as relatively healthy as the Miramichi ( in spite of recent problems. I’m very interested in what the biologist from Canada has to say because I am very worried that cutting the at sea stage out of Salars life cycle as they want to do with CAST is playing with genetic fire and unnecessary on a river with as large a wild run as the Great Miramichi .

    • Thanks Gene. I’m already at 35,000 words just fleshing out the outline. It will be quite a bit longer than Closing the Season.

  2. Brad, the two pictures from the early 1900s are great. Clearly, both men are holding black salmon, but the setting seems much later in the season than what we are accustomed to now when it comes to catching kelts. Perhaps the hand coloring of the photos makes them deceiving, but the water looks low (for spring) and each man is dressed in clothing not all that heavy (indicating mild weather). Maybe it was a very mild winter with low snowfall prior to when these photos were taken.

    Thinks for providing us with a winter update as we dream about the start of the next salmon season.

    • I think you are 100% right that they are fishing later in the season. Another book written a few years later by Dorothy Noyes Arms talks about mid-May fishing after the ice out freshet had passed. We think of kelt fishing as being over by that time. I don’t know if it is because there were just a lot more kelts in those days and these were just outliers, or if there was more different like colder winters that shortened up the time between ice out and milder weather. We will probably never know that, but I will do my best to find out.

  3. Hi Brad, I enjoyed Closing the Season and looking forward to your book on the Cains.
    I imagine you have already spoken to Bryant Freeman.

    • David – I do know Bryant, but frankly had not thought of talking to him not knowing his relationship with the Cains. He probably knows plenty about it though. I did see a video on You Tube with him fishing the Cains not all that long ago. I’ll give him a call. Did you read Underhill’s book about Bryant this summer? Brad

      • Hi Brad,
        I did read Underhills book about Bryant and I enjoyed it very much. The book brought back a lot of memories I have of my days on the Medway with Bryant and his dad Lew. You would have enjoyed meeting Lew as he was a great salmon fisherman and did a lot of work on salmon conservation. It was amazing what he could do with only one arm.
        I am looking forward to your new book on the Cains. Have a good winter and the fishing season will be here before we know it.

        Dave Hunt

        • David – I especially liked that picture of salmon fishing on the Medway. When I grew up in Maine there were still salmon runs in many of our small, Down-East rivers. What a shame that it is gone now. Brad

  4. Brad,

    Enjoyed that, not least the tantalising prospect of a book on the Cains. A most mysterious and wildly beautiful river. It would be fascinating to me personally to learn more about the ‘deserted’ fishing camps up that valley.
    Hope you are continuing to enjoy a fabulous Christmas break.

    Best,

    Henry.

    • Henry – Happy New Year to you! I’ll be on the Naver in about 65 days, can’t wait.

      To my knowledge very few of the real fishing camps are deserted, and in fact most have new owners and there seems to be great interest in the Cains. All the old farms, to my knowledge every single place that a Scot or Irishman cleared with back breaking labor has fallen back into the ground, and the fields transformed to woods – and probably been cut over once or twice too. The positive thing is that with the exception of about 30 private plots along the entire 60 plus miles of shoreline, the river is owned by the Province, and if present policies hold can never be developed.

      • Good stuff. Naver: how exciting well I’ve been invited on the Carron 3rd week August. May be time to reacquaint with the Highlands.
        Henry

  5. Hi Brad, enjoy your blog and would like to hear your opinion on the CAST controversy if you have time (or perhaps after you attend the symposium).

    Looking carefully at the slides, i would say that it is easy to be deceived by the artificial colouring. Especially in the second picture where the foreground beach is the same colour as the trees in the background. My guess is that these photos were taken pretty close to a time we all would normally associate with black salmon fishing, like late April.
    Kent

    • Kent – good observations on colors etc. I guess we may never know for sure. I say may, because I’m going to have the opportunity to watch some film taken on that trip, and it may have some more clues. If the museum that owns it will let me post it to my website I will. There was another small book called Fishing Memories written a few years after Sturges book, but the woman who wrote it fished there with Harry Allen for many years. She talks about going in May after the spring freshet when the river was dropping down towards its summer height, and she says that they later moved to an earlier date in April to find more fish. The window of time just isn’t that long, and I’m sure that Allen took more than one party if he could get them. Personally I believe by the relatively light clothing and height of water – that rock is out about the same as that during much of the bright fishing season – that it is around the middle of May. As one of our guides, Darrell Warren, loves to say, “hard to say not knowing.”

      My feelings about the CAST concept of stocking adult salmon at spawning time that have been raised in the hatchery from wild smolt, are complicated. I’m not a trained scientist, though I have been interested and involved in these things my whole life, and I don’t know that being a fishery scientist automatically makes your thoughts on unknown things like this more valid than everyone else’s.

      I would love to think that without stocking of any kind that the Miramichi system would simply return to years of great runs. I will always hope that happens. It is certainly not possible to beat things happening just the way mother nature intended. That said, it is man that has screwed this thing up not matter what the exact reason that our smolts are not returning to the river as adults in their historical percentages. There are many great rivers in the world where stocking has been used to boost the system for many years. Recently, the River Thurso in Scotland decided it no longer needed to stock from its hatchery that had been in use for nearly 100 years because the runs were so good. Clearly the hatchery did not ruin that river. The Miramichi itself has had a hatchery operation for a very long time – I don’t know how long offhand, but I think that it too go backs 100 years or more.

      Peter Gray, who is credited by many with restoring the North Tyne in Scotland from nothing to fabulous has received nothing but scorn from many in the scientific community there. There are also many who don’t think that criticism is well founded.

      The CAST plan was devised by some of the best minds available in Canada. I believe the major concerns are that the fish will be unfit after two years of being raised in a hatchery to spawn with really wild fish. But whether the fish go to sea or stay in a hatchery tank, the genetics of the smolt are exactly the same, and we are starting with 100% wild smolts. There is definitely a natural selection process at sea, but how much of whether they make it back to the river or not is serendipity, and how much is a special inbred fitness that is discovered by life at sea? Logically I suspect that the luck of the draw is a big factor.

      I read an opinion recently that said that even stocking unfed fry is less than ideal because natural selection begins with parents that select a gravel bar that won’t be washed away by spring ice. I think that expecting any salmon would have an idea of where the ice coming down the river is going to strike the bottom is really a stretch.

      The biggest problem we face is low survival at sea. Until we can summon the guts to put the brakes on commercial overharvest of everything in the sea – and I wouldn’t try to hold my breath on that one – the only thing we can do to combat the poor returns is to get more smolts into the sea each spring. The CAST concept takes a few thousand smolts from a run that is upwards of 2,000,000 most years. When you consider that only a couple of percent are currently surviving in the ocean to return – and it was never much more than 7% or so – these few smolts will not matter to the river’s wild returns. After feeding them for two years they are released to spawn naturally at locations and with partners of their own choice. The idea seems brilliant to me. Given the current state of the runs which in reality is a 90% decline since the 1960s, and 60% decline within the last decade, I believe that we should do something concrete now.

      • Wow, thanks Brad for the thoughtful and thorough reply.
        I also wonder about how the stresses and environment impact the salmon through all life stages and if we can accurately predict how those factors can really impart, through natural selection, success in breeding. Or, is the returning salmon just really lucky! At least the wild genetic strain is being maintained through the CAST program.
        Let’s hope we can figure out how to protect them in the ocean.
        Take care

  6. Great comments on the CAST proposal controversy. I am a skeptic of the Smolt to Adult Supplementation (SAS) proposal of CAST as I cannot find any evidence not only of a successful implementation, but of SAS having even been tried before. The aforementioned Peter Grey method, on the other hand, does have substantial evidence. The controversy surrounding Peter Grey and his method used on the river Tyne was not whether it was a positive on the river Tyne, but rather was it the major reason for the improvement on the Tyne. A useful review of the available evidence on the Tyne is available here (http://www.wyeuskfoundation.org/problems/downloads/Tyne%20Hatchery%20Report.pdf ). The review concludes that the hatchery stockings were very successful in compensating for the loss of upstream spawning habitat on the river caused by the construction of a dam ( the original reason for the construction of the hatchery). The report was clear though that since the Tyne still had significant heathy spawning habitat once river pollution was eliminated, increased natural reproduction contributed to the majority of the total recovery. The return rate for the “Peter Grey” stockings over the period of 1980-2000 were pegged at about 0.5 % and were found to contribute to increasing the total runs in the river an estimated 2 to 7 percent. Nevertheless, while Grey’s efforts might not have been the major contributor, his techniques in raising the stocked fish, released as fall parr, was clever, less expensive than smolt stocking and appear not to have interferred with wild reproduction levels. Importantly rates of return for his fall parr stocking were similar that of smolt stockings here in the US. I’m sure this evidence on the Peter Grey method is what has led to DSF’s current program on the East Machias river in Maine. DSF has already demonstrated an increase in stream smolt levels of 2x so far and hopefully soon increases in adult returns will happen(https://wildatlanticsalmon.org/about-the-parr-project/). It seems to me that while the Peter Grey method is not a cure all for the Miramichi it certainly has potential to safely and effectively supplement natural smolt production in the Miramichi River. Evidence comparable to this is something that does not exist for the SAS proposal from CAST. I’m looking forward to the discussion at the MSA event and hope it’s productive and results in sharing a lot of the existing scientific evidence on this subject. I for one agree with DFO stopping the SAS effort until a peer review consensus is achieved.

    • William – thank you for your very informed comments on the CAST stocking program. I think we are all looking forward to what we will hear in less than a month at the Boston MSA dinner. I would only add that it is my understanding that the program being used to rebuild the Upper Salmon River population in Fundy National Park is essentially the same as planned by CAST, and that while it is relatively new it is getting high marks so far.

      I personally have been a fan of the early feeding fry stocking that the MSA has been using in recent years, and is still using. I like it because other than the eggs being fertilized and hatched in a hatchery the entire rest of the process including the complete stream life of the fish is wild. When I first heard about the CAST approach I was surprised and asked what was wrong with just expanding our fry program. The answer I received was that a great part of the Miramichi drainage is inaccessible to hatchery trucks. The CAST program allows the adult salmon to pick their own spawning location. Hopefully they will spread out and utilize spawning habitat that there are not currently enough wild fish to cover. To be honest I had simply never thought of that approach, but it seems to make sense.

      It bothers me no end that we need to do any stocking in the Miramichi. The river has great salmon habitat, and is in relatively pristine condition. When we have anything resembling good returns the river produces huge amounts of smolts. Like everyone I certainly would like to think we can lick the problems at sea – and perhaps in our own estuary with an overly protected striped bass population – and get back to the kind of runs we had just 10 or 15 years ago. We can’t dip to the point, though, of losing sufficient brood stock, and so something apparently needs to be done now.

      • Bradd, thanks for the interesting reply. I had not heard of the Upper Salmon River program and I am interested in it’s results. I agree whole heartedly about the Striped Bass concerns and went up early this past year to see the bass population for myself. I was floored by the density of the fish indicated by the huge amount we were able to catch in just 3 days in May. If they like smolts like they liked my White Trash flies we’re in trouble! Something that also bothers me about that issue is MSA has never posted the results for the it’s 2016 Smolt tracking/survival study? A lot of my alarm about Striped Bass predation was based on MSA’s 2014 and 2015 smolt tracking results that claimed the river’s smolt survival had pummeled from 70% in around 2004 to 30% or so in the latest studies. It also pointed to the largest loss of the tagged smolts happening in the lower 10 miles of river from the head of the tide to the city of Miramichi. I called many times last year to the MSA office and while promised a copy of the 2016 results I have yet to received any update. With how the bass population is skyrocketing I can only imagine what the results in 2016 and last year must be.

        • William – I have forwarded your e-mail to the MSA, and I expect that you will hear from someone. The data on the smolt predation belongs at least in part to the Atlantic Salmon Federation, and they have insisted on keeping a lid on exact numbers until they have the whole thing ready to publish, which I think is coming right up.

          As a life-long striper fisherman – I wrote the LL Bean Fly Fishing for Striped Bass Book back in the 90s – it is inconceivable that stripers are not taking some toll on the smolts. On the other hand the two species have coexisted in that river system for a very long time. I think that everyone is still in something of a wait and see mode. New and more aggressive harvest measures are supposed to be forthcoming this spring, and the very strong rumor is that the First Nations will be allowed a net fishery. That could help. Stripers are also notoriously cyclic in their spawning success, and considering the Miramichi is near the very northern edge of the striper’s range, that has to be amplified. Brad

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