Fishing Friends –
Recently the New Brunswick Department of Fisheries and Oceans published the July 15th fish trap numbers for the Millerton trap on the Southwest Miramichi, as well as the counts for a number of other locations in the Province. As a general statement the numbers were quite positive. The Northwest Miramichi was the only notable exception to trend. Larger salmon – as opposed to grilse – numbers were up marginally on the Southwest Miramichi at Millerton from 71 in 2018 to 74 for 2019. At Mactaquac on the Saint John they were up from 50 to 164, and on the Nashwaak they jumped from 7 to 21. At Cassilis on the NW Miramichi, though, they were down from 32 to 26 which is essentially a record low.
The grilse numbers, though, were much more impressive. The grilse have to spend only one year at sea, so they may more accurately reflect the past winter’s sea survival conditions. Sea survival is considered to be the main issue with declining salmon returns since the percentage of smolts that go to sea and manage to live to return for spawning has dropped from something like 10% back in the 1970s to not much over 1% in some recent years.
Grilse on the SWM were up from 128 to 273. While that is still far below the 500 or so averaged 20 years ago, it is a substantial increase over 2018’s 128 and 2017’s 193. Things are definitely headed in the right direction there. They were also up substantially from 211 to 378 on the Saint John, and 21 to 64 on the Nashwaak. The NWM saw a grilse increase from 107 to 139. One must always remember with these numbers that the Miramichi counts – unlike the Saint John and Nashwaak where every fish is counted – reflect only a sampling of the fish that enter the river. Historically the Millerton net catches only 5% of the salmon and 9% of the grilse, though it varies considerably from year to year depending on various factors including water height and temperature.
Another indication is the Dungarvon Barrier count done by the Department of Natural Resources. The Dungarvon is a tributary of the Renous that meets the Southwest Miramichi at Quarryville. Its watershed lies essentially between those of the Southwest and Northwest Miramichi. The timing of the Dungarvon Barrier counts is different than the others, but here they are through July 14: Grilse were up over 2018’s 26 to 45 this year, small salmon between 64 and 85 cm were up from 12 to 18, and salmon over 85 cm from 26 to 28 this year. In total all Atlantic salmon counted in the trap were up from 64 to 91 – a solid 42% increase.
Also counted at Dungarvon are sea run brook trout, and that number was up from 6 in 2018 to an amazing 95 this year! I checked with Miramichi Salmon Association President Mark Hambrook and he had no explanation for big brook trout count, but was very pleased to see the improved returns of both Atlantic salmon and brookies.
Every year is different, and the trend in recent years has been back towards a very heavy emphasis on “late running fish” that appear in late September and October to make up the majority of the run. In 2018 Millerton’s July 15 count was down from 92 in 2017 to 71, but when the season was over 2018 surpassed 2017 by 670 to 584. That means there is plenty of time for the final 2019 outcome to be much different than we currently see it. Those early silver fish, though, are the finest of the year, and it is great to see an uptick in the numbers.