Some of you will remember my rant a few weeks ago about DFO’s failure to satisfactorily manage the Miramichi River’s Atlantic salmon. I said then that I would share with everyone my letter to the minister of DFO. In this blog I am doing that. The letter is a little long, but it is an important topic. I am going to paste it in below.
I have already e-mailed this letter to the two Ministers listed in the excel spread sheet and cc’d the other politicians in the list below them.
Dear Ministers Joyce Murray and Gudie Hutchings:
My name is Brad Burns, and I am a citizen of the United States. For more than 20 years I have also been a property owner and employer on the Miramichi and Cains Rivers in New Brunswick, Canada. I’m an officer of the U.S. chapter of the Miramichi Salmon Association MSA, though I am writing to you personally, and not as a representative of the MSA. I also write a fairly well-read blog on Atlantic salmon fishing that this letter will appear in, so you may very well hear from others who share my concerns.
The Miramichi River is famous for being one of the most prolific Atlantic salmon rivers in the world. Now, although I believe it is still entirely preventable, the Miramichi is in danger of losing its run of salmon. It would be a terrible blow to the Province of New Brunswick since so many people love this fishery and depend on it for jobs, tourism, and recreation.
It was estimated that in the 1920s the Miramichi system had a run of approximately 1,000,000 adult salmon. This was the largest run in North America. New Brunswick scientist William Hooper estimated that as late as 1965 the run was in excess of 600,000 fish. After a low period in the early 1980s due to overfishing, the run in 2010 was again approaching 100,000 salmon. Things were good, and there was a lot of optimism.
The Atlantic salmon of the Miramichi share the river with a number of other anadromous species, among them are striped bass. During the 1990s the striped bass population had declined to very low numbers, and at that time a complete harvest moratorium was put in place. By 2010 the bass had recovered, and the population since then has fluctuated in a range of between 300,000 and 1,000,000 individuals. No living person has ever seen numbers of striped bass that approach current levels. The problem that this presents for Atlantic salmon is that the bass gather to spawn near the head of the tide in both the NW and SW Miramichi River branches at the same time that the Atlantic salmon smolts head to sea. Tagging work in the Miramichi shows that the striped bass are consuming a very high percentage of the outgoing smolts. With ocean survival for Atlantic salmon already being an issue, the Miramichi salmon numbers are again dropping. The runs have now declined to approximately 20,000 adults. This is an alarmingly small number for a river that is thought to have the best and most extensive spawning and rearing habitat in Canada. Other anadromous species such as sea run brook trout and smelts have also seen their numbers dramatically reduced during the same time frame, and it is believed that striped bass predation is the major culprit.
In order to improve Miramichi salmon numbers, a collection of the best qualified people in Atlantic salmon science coming from the University of New Brunswick, and other well-recognized institutions in Canada, began meeting in 2014 to devise a strategy to supplement the salmon stocks. This became the Collaboration for Atlantic Salmon Tomorrow or CAST program, and it was supported by both private and public sector institutions including DFO itself. CAST was financed by $6,000,000 in funding over 5 years that came from a combination of Federal, Provincial and Private sources. The CAST partners decided on an adult supplementation program called Stocking Adult Salmon SAS to grow wild smolts up to adulthood in the Miramichi Salmon Association hatchery. These fish were then to be released into the individual rivers of their origins to spawn naturally with themselves and wild fish that might be present. The CAST program received a favorable peer review.
When it came time to release these fish to spawn DFO refused to issue the permits. I believe that the refusal to grant the permits was completely unjustified. No clear reasons for the refusal were ever given. It is important to note, though, that this didn’t happen just once, but for three consecutive years, and each time stocking permits were refused a different excuse was offered. When action was taken – at great public and private expense – to remove each obstacle another one was created at the last minute to again stop the releases. The peer review was the first of those obstacles, and it should have been the last since it proved that the science behind CAST was sound.
Finally, DFO officials said that the problem was concern about the hatchery raised fish spawning with wild fish in the river – even though the adult fish being released had been born wild and lived wild in the Miramichi River until they were captured as smolts on their way to the sea. DFO officials said that if the Miramichi Salmon Association would instead release the fry derived from spawning these same fish in a hatchery, then the permits would be forth coming. This delayed all progress for another two years, but still the MSA moved forward in good faith growing the smolts to the adult stage in their hatchery.
In the fall of 2022, 600 adult fish were ready to spawn. This would have provided 1.5 million fry to stock in various tributaries of the river in the spring of 2023. Instead, DFO again refused to grant the permits. These adult fish are still alive, and spawning could take place in the fall of 2023 for stocking the next spring. To keep the program going beyond that more smolts will need to be collected in 2023. Everything depends on the DFO providing the needed permits.
It is important to note that DFO is now doing this exact same program from its own facilities at Mactaquac near Fredericton, New Brunswick, and very similar programs are currently rebuilding the populations in the Big Salmon River and the Nepisiguit River, both located in New Brunswick. This same technique is widely used in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and probably is being used in other West Coast DFO facilities. There is nothing new or experimental about the program, and while the local DFO staff may have had the best of intentions, it is incomprehensible that they did not and still are not letting these needed programs go forward on the Miramichi.
I have reviewed the DFO mandates, and DFO is completely failing in its mandate to “…sustainably manage the Miramichi Atlantic salmon fishery, and to work with fishers as well as coastal and Indigenous communities to enable their continued prosperity from fish and seafood…” DFO has also failed to offer any plan at all to counter the shrinking population of Miramichi salmon, and that is jeopardizing one of Canada’s longest-standing fishing cultures consisting of outfitters, recreational enthusiasts, fishing access owners and Indigenous communities.
The Miramichi today still has a viable spawning population of Atlantic salmon, but it needs help to produce enough smolts to feed the ridiculous population of overly protected striped bass, and to make it back through a sea that due to commercial fishing excesses and climate change is not as friendly as it once was. Hopefully both those factors will eventually moderate and/or the salmon will adapt. Meanwhile, every biologist that I have heard from who is familiar with the Miramichi feels that supplementing the number of fry in the Miramichi River is necessary for the population to increase meaningfully from current levels.
DFO is mandated to come up with a plan to recover the fishery. Here is a very simple solution. I ask that you use the authority of your office to instruct the DFO office in Moncton, NB to allow the Miramichi Salmon Association to engage in Atlantic salmon stock supplementation by permitting the gathering of a sufficient number of wild smolts to be grown in the MSA hatchery so that enough fry will be generated to recover the adult salmon returns to 100,000 individuals within 10 years. For all practical purposes the number of available smolts is unlimited – as long as they are gathered before they reach the striped bass at the head of tide. Also, a management plan should be put in place to reduce the striped bass population in the Miramichi system to one that is compatible with 100,000 returning adult salmon. Allowing the herring netters to keep and sell the bass they catch during the spring run – as they historically did – could remove the surplus in the bass population over time. Hopefully once these things are done the system can begin to come back into balance.
It is worth adding that there are many individuals like myself – from both Canada, the U.S. and even from Europe – who own properties on the Miramichi system so that they can enjoy the river’s Atlantic salmon fishing. I can’t accurately estimate investments that have been made in these lodges, camps, and undeveloped pieces of riverfront land, but I’m certain it would amount to much more than $200,000,000, and that the operation of these places provides hundreds of jobs in rural areas of the Province that really need them. One study in 2011 estimated a Gross Domestic Product for the Province from Atlantic salmon fishing of $55,000,000 a year. That would certainly be much more in 2023, and the Miramichi system has historically been the target of 90% of all Atlantic salmon fishing trips made in New Brunswick. When returning to America during the salmon season the first question the border authorities ask is “how was the salmon fishing.” Without salmon and salmon fishing these economic and cultural opportunities would disappear, and most of these workers would become unemployed. Of the guides I have had at my camp over the years, they all had fathers and grandfathers who had also guided on the Miramichi. I do not believe that the responsible DFO decision makers really comprehend the importance of the Miramichi’s Atlantic salmon fishery.
I hope to hear from you soon with some affirmative action on this request.
Bradford E. Burns
18 Merrill Rd.
Falmouth, ME 04105
What do I hope to accomplish with this letter? I’m hoping that these people will realize the gravity of what this letter addresses and do just as I have suggested. That is to contact the staff in the Moncton office of the DFO and direct them to cooperate with the MSA to allow stocking fry derived from wild smolts – regardless of whether they do it by stocking hatchery raised adults, hatchery raised fry, or planted eggs or a combination of approaches – on a sufficient level to rebuild the Miramichi Atlantic salmon population to 100,000 individuals in 10 years. And to direct them to bring the striped bass population down to a level that will allow that many salmon to exist without the need for long-term stocking. Both Ministers are from coastal fishing areas where recreational fishing is important to the public. Minister Hutchings built and operated a salmon fishing lodge on the Eagle River in Labrador. She has no authority over DFO, but I’ll bet her sentiments have plenty of influence.
How can you help? Please write these officials yourself. You are free to use my letter or any part of it, though I think it would be much better if you write as much in your own words as you can.
For those of you not familiar with sending e-mails from addresses on an excel spreadsheet let me help you. All you have to do is open up a new e-mail then highlight and copy the e-mail addresses from the excel sheet cells – link in bold blue below. Do that first with the two Minister’s addresses in the To… address bar, then highlight and paste the other larger group into the CC… address bar. That should do it. A link to the Excel spreadsheet with the e-mail addresses is right below.
I strongly believe the time to act is now. I hope that you will join me in this action.
Thanks for reading and hopefully participating. Brad Burns
well written sir
Thanks Ken – I hope that you will write your own letter on the subject. Brad
Good letter, Brad. I hope they pay some heed to what you say. Thank you for making this effort!
Thanks Fred – I hope that you will write your own letter on the subject. Brad
Excellent letter, Brad, and clear follow-0n instructions as well. Will do.
FYI, we cannot make the MSA banquet this year, as we will be out of the country, in Mexico.
I hope that you will write your own letter on the subject. Brad
Well done Brad. I hope someone with influence starts listening and takes action before it’s too late.
Casey – I hope that you will write your own letter on the subject. Brad
You are probably aware that ME is instituting an adult stocking program in the Penob and Machias and that the Downeast Salmon Federation has tested (for 10+years) and shown great success with the Peter Gray Parr Project. Stock supplementation is not a one size fits all equation. In the case of our work, we have found that the parr used in our situation on the Narraguagus and E Machias far out perform fry in the larger width class habitats. We continue to stock some fry in the smallest tribs, though the biggest bang for the buck is with parr in the case of the rivers and situation in ME at the moment (where overall egg numbers from the federal facilities is sorely insufficient).
If DFO determines that stocking will be allowed to proceed, the managers and cooperators need to be made fully aware of our findings and the work that is ongoing here in Maine.
Supplemention (stocking) research is also sorely lacking and lagging behind other aspects of watershed and fisheries management. The advances in genetics has been a game changer. But all of the advances made can be erased when predator populations, native or not, are allowed to grow to a point that they push At Risk populations dramatically downward.
We have just introduced a bill in ME to eliminate bag limits and length limits on SM and LM bass and other bass reg inconsistecies in the salmon rivers in eastern ME.
Thank you for speaking up, providing a venue and keeping the conversation alive around Atlantic salmon. The details are important and we can’t expect improvements if we aren’t digging in to the details.
Downeast Salmon Federation
Dwayne – thanks for your comments – amen. Also, thanks for all the mountains you folks have moved in trying to bring salmon back to Eastern Maine. That is one thing that makes this so infuriating. There seems to be a cult with DFO science that thinks the only time to use stock enhancement is after the river has gone dead. The Miramichi needs help now, not after DFO has ended the fishery and turned the river into their idea of a science experiment. Brad
Thanks for that Brad, lets hope someone will make a move towards the goals you set forth..It’s way past time for the Govt. of N.B. to step up and address this issue….if they don’t, I suggest that the good people of N.B. Ca. develop a plan of their own to replace these people in Govt. that don’t listen to their own constituents,after all, they are supposed to be there to listen and act on behalf of the people…..thanks again for all the work you do on behalf of the Miramichi and its people…..
Mac – I hope that you will write your own letter to the Canadian politicians. Certainly the Miramichi Salmon Club has made lots of valuable investments on the river. Brad
I am a camp owner on Gray Rapids and like you I fear my kids and grandkids will not get the opportunity to enjoy the years of salmon fishing on the Miramichi that I have. Your letter moved me to do the same, I just sent my letter.
it’s time the DFO got serious, before we all lose this generational fish.
Thanks John – I have letters also from Country Haven Lodge and from Ian Cavanagh who guides there that I am going to publish in a new blog in a day or two. Hopefully we will get a favorable response from DFO.
A great letter Brad.
To say the Atlantic salmon in te Miramichi is at a tipping point, as it has been for the past many years, is an understatement. It is inconceivable to me that DFO can seemingly turn a blind eye to the Miramichi while moving ahead with the very programs at other rivers that we we are asking to do.
It’s time for DFO to stop “kicking the can down the road” on the Miramichi Salmon restoration.
Stephan – I hope that you will write your own letter to the Canadian politicians. Brad
I have fished in Quarryville on the Mirimichi River every year except the last two since 1971. The last three years I fished
before Covid was 2019-2021. I spent over a month each of those three years and probably fished less than 6 hours total.
There were no fish. I saw maybe 10 fish caught here in those three months. The entire area was full of stripers. The stripers were there in late June and early July and from mid September to mid October. These were the times I was there.
I have written to the DFO with my concerns in the past. I agree with Brad Burns and his arguments for better salmon management on this river. Aggressive management has to be immediate and unforgiving. The delays of management of freshwater bass on this river is a provincial shame. The hesitation to take care of the striper problem may see the end of salmon fishing on this river.
Joseph – I hope that you will write your own letter to the Canadian politicians. Brad
Brad: Will write to them again.
From: Art Froese [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Monday, January 16, 2023 12:36 PM
To: Brad Burns
Subject: Re: Letter to the Ministers of DFO and Rural Economic Development
The salmon, the Miramichi and the rest of us, are all lucky to have you on the planet. You made a massive effort to be thoughtful and kind in a situation that could easily have been strongly criticized. Hopefully the facts will sway the minds and the policy and that it’s not, “too little, too late.”
Art – thanks for the kind words. I hope that you will write your own letter to the Canadian politicians. Brad
Thanks, Brad, for your good letter to the ministers.
I will follow up with a letter citing 50 years fishing on the Miramichi
through 3 generations of families providing guides and staff
and through complete rebuilding a camp on the river.
All the very best,
Chris, excellent, I think that will help a great deal. Brad
Thanks for raising your voice Brad … I have drafted my letter and will email to the distribution list you have pulled together. This is important work and I hope that the ask regarding fry, which is founded on sound logic and precendent, will enable DFO to support this request thus demonstrating clear action to help the Atlantic Salmon population in the Miramichi system. Thanks again for your initiative here … important for all folks here to take this seriously. As a working guide on the Miramichi River system, it is critically important to me, from both an environmental and economic standpoint, that DFO udertakes steps to positively impact the Atlantic Salmon population.
Thanks Ian. The MSA’s ability to utilize its hatchery to help turn around the Miramichi’s salmon stock is being severely hampered by DFO’s obstructive positions on stocking. I hope that we can do whatever it takes to change things. Brad
Brad, Thank you for advocating for the salmon. I have sent a email to the addresses you provided. Jim Graul
Thanks Jim. Brad
Maybe you should talk to your guest speaker at your MSA banquet and see if he can light a fire under DFO to get something done. If he cannot do it, it cannot be done.
Jim – thanks for the insight. We will be sure to do that. We’re also hoping, though, that DFO and the politicians we copied may be interested in hearing from regular people who are concerned about the Miramichi salmon. I hope that you will add your voice to it. Brad
Brad…sincerest thanks for your efforts to turn DFO around and for your other activities with MSA. I am in basic agreement with your description of the situation and how DFO is not stepping up on several issues and furthermore seems to be thwarting the efforts of others. I would appreciate knowing their reasoning and the “excuses” they have used. It’s difficult to assess the validity of their arguments without knowing what they are. As a fish biologist I can think of several hypotheses that might argue for potential dangers of either the CAST or SAS approach. These are theoretical and untested to my knowledge. One could also argue that efforts to increase smolt production will, to some degree, simply result in more forage for striped bass. You rightly addressed the bass problem. With a change there, recovery is going to be delayed or impossible. Another issue that bears mentioning, but it may be removed from the main subject of your letter…is the question of water quality and catchment basin regulation, including forestry practices and the use of chemicals.
Please give us more information on the specific concerns of the DFO. Does the organization have valid scientific concerns or are political factors also in play?
Ed – I think DFO’s failure to approve CAST, and especially their going back on their assurances of allowing the fry stocking are routed in a belief by some of the biologists that the only good stocking is no stocking. I’m sure from your e-mail that you are familiar with all the arguments. If the Miramichi salmon were doing fine without stocking – supplementation – there would be no argument. Ideally everything would be balanced naturally. Today that is simply not possible. Stripers are flourishing with strong protective measures, climate change, and the elimination by commercial fishing of virtually all of their inshore predators. Salmon are being hit by a number of factors on the high seas, and yes the watershed probably isn’t as perfect as it was 100 years ago. By comparison to most rivers, though, it is still relatively pristine, and there are no dams. The Miramichi is still very successfully producing large quantities of parr and smolts.
Joint work by the MSA and ASF showed that the striped bass have decreased the percentage of smolts making it out into the ocean from something like 75% in the early 2000s down to 30% now. This decrease has taken place in just the last dozen or so years, and it very directly coincides with the increase in striped bass. Clearly they don’t get them all, though, and now with the adult population at levels that are below full spawning escapement introducing more fry would result in more smolts, thus a greater number would make it by the bass.
Stocking by every method we discussed, be it hatchery raised adults, fry, athletic parr as the Downeast Salmon folks suggest, or eggs planted manually in the gravel all have their supporters, and doubtless they all will work to some extent. Actually, the MSA and its predecessors all have stocked fry and parr into the Miramichi. The stocking goes back over 100 years, and some years nearly 3,000,000 fry were stocked. The Miramichi had some fantastic runs throughout this period. DFO has actually curtailed the MSA’s stocking program by huge percentage compared to just 10 years ago – just at the time it is needed the most.
I’m doing as I was afraid of with this answer and getting a little too deep into it all. The point here is that the Miramichi salmon population is decreasing, and virtually all of the biologists that I know feel strongly that we must enhance the numbers of fry to turn around the decrease in the number of salmon.
Sent: Monday, January 16, 2023 1:08 PM
To: ‘Brad Burns’
Subject: RE: Letter to the Ministers of DFO and Rural Economic Development
Very well done!
Will be sending off a letter of my own to them shortly while borrowing much of your well-written note below if you don’t mind!
The Swanson Group
Marketing & Technology Recruiting Services
W. Jon Swanson
Thanks for doing this Brad. I have just sent my letter to the names you have suggested, including an explanation of why this issue is personal to me from my experiences in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Again, I am very thankful to you for helping to lead us through this process and for your great explanations in a way that is very clear to understand!
Thanks Paul. I’m old enough to have known the Miramichi in the late 50s and 60s, but my youth was 100% coast of Maine saltwater. I’ve done a ton of research on the Miramichi and Cains Rivers, and I’ve often wished that I had experienced that fishing first hand. I got a little glimpse of what Miramichi fishing could be like on some of the better days we had in the very early 2000s. Those experiences were incredible. It is hard to accept that I may not get to see it again.
Seems that DFO are failing the west coast fishery too