Letter To the New Minister, The Honorable Diane Lebouthillier

A summer grilse lucky enough to have made it by the bass 14 months earlier. Numbers have fallen through the floor under DFO’s watch. Photo Sutter Salmon Club

Fishing Friends –

My old Miramichi mentor Willy Bacso used to say that he always felt better after New Year’s since things were now starting in the direction of spring and salmon fishing.  Willy passed away in 2009, and frankly I’m glad that he never had to face the situation that exists now.  Everyone I know does want to look forward to salmon fishing.  But at least since the days of heavy estuary netting there has never been such fear and anger within the fishery.  I’ve had some people warn me not to be too negative because it will kill the outfitting industry.  At the same time I’ve had other people tell me that it would be a disservice to those who care about the Miramichi not to put all the cards directly on the table. 

I hear both sides of this discussion, and I do my best to call attention to the problems of the river while still telling people about the great fishery that does remain and encouraging folks to keep going salmon fishing on the Miramichi.  The latter message is easy for me, because I’d still rather fish the Miramichi than anywhere else I’ve ever been.  For certain, though, we have to do everything that we can to get the river back to what one of my friends calls “the recent good old days.”  This is what we experienced in the early 2000s when in the better years runs approached 100,000 salmon – far more than any other river in North America, and more that all the rivers of the Gaspe combined. 

What happened?  What happened was that the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans – and more accurately the Moncton office of DFO – became so focused on the success they were having with striped bass that they ignored what the MSA and the ASF have been telling them for more than 10 years, and that is that the striped bass in the lower portions of the Miramichi River and in estuary were eating an unsustainable percentage of the Atlantic salmon smolts trying to exit the river.  Is that the only problem?   No it is not.  There are issues at sea that are bringing down salmon returns everywhere in Atlantic Canada.  Some biologists feel strongly that one big issue is unreported commercial fishing activity actually directed towards salmon, others feel it is lack of forage because the small fish that salmon eat are being vacuumed up by other commercial fisheries.  There are more theories too. But no one can deny the incredible stress that going from 80% survival of outgoing smolts in 2010 to 20% or less today is putting on the numbers of returning adult salmon.  This is the work of the unreasonable numbers of striped bass.

DFO has known this for years and yet they have done nothing at all.  In fact, they recently tightened up restrictions on fishing during the bass spawning time on the NW branch of the Miramichi.  To make matters worse, DFO curtailed the fry stocking programs of the MSA, and at the same time, at the urging of the ASF refused to allow the CAST program which had been designed by the very top salmon biologists from the University of New Brunswick to go forward.  The results of these combined actions are now all too clear to informed viewers. 

Now there is a conference scheduled for March that will include DFO, First Nations, the MSA, New Brunswick Salmon Council, the Miramichi Watershed Committee and the ASF. The hope is to come up with an action plan to begin in 2024.  Let us all hope that this program has some success.  But let’s also be clear, that we can’t be satisfied with “progress.”  We can’t because we are already at the wall, and the NW Miramichi may very well already be over it. 

Does DFO know what needs to be done?  Of course they do! 

  • Bring the striped bass population down to under 100,000 spawners which is where it was before the salmon started declining. To do this will require some aggressive increases in the commercial fishery.  The quickest way to do that is to let the gaspereau netters in the mouth of the Miramichi retain and sell the bass.  They already catch them, but they have to let them go.  Some days the nets are so full of bass it isn’t even worth it to pick out the gaspereau that they are trying to catch. 
  • Using modern hatchery techniques stock enough fry to help the salmon numbers rebuild without disrupting the wild run. Currently we don’t really have the capacity at the MSA hatchery to do all that is needed, but we can help.  DFO could also help to provide funds for some modest expansion of capacity.

There are other things like pressuring Greenland to end their mixed stock fishery, reducing the capelin fishery and being more aggressive on ferreting out ocean intercept fisheries, but these things are much more complicated, and the results of these efforts will be harder to measure. 

So what can we as private citizens/fishermen/conservationist do right now to help?  We can do everything we can to bring our complaints against the inaction of the DFO office in Moncton.  We can do this by writing directly to the Minister of DFO in Ottawa.  Does it do any good?  It certainly cannot hurt.  Every politician responds differently to public input.  The new minister, The Honorable Diane Lebouthillier, is from the Isle de Madeleine just off the coast of New Brunswick.  This problem is close to home for her.  It is hard to imagine that she won’t be interested. 

I’ve done a lot of this sort of advocating over the years.  I’ve had politicians quietly tell me to step it up, that politicians know that when they receive 1 e-mail or letter from someone that there are 100 more that feel exactly the same way. 

So here goes.  Below you will find the letter that I am sending out today.  After the letter you will find a link to an excel spread sheet with the names and e-mails that a political consultant has told me are the other politicians that should be contacted regarding this issue.  I’m going to send individually addressed e-mails to every one of them.  Just forward the e-mail from the last one you sent out, readdress it, and send it to the next one on the list.  I don’t believe the whole process will take an half hour.  If you want to just copy and paste my letter you can do that.  I think though, that it is better if you personalize it to whatever extent you want – or just write a letter in your own words.  Either way is fine, but please do it.  Only if we take action can we hope for results. 

Thank you.  Brad Burns


To The Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard:

During the late 1990s and early 2000s there was a strong and improving run of both grilse and salmon in the Miramichi River.  To go along with it there was a community of people both local and visiting anglers who treated the fishery with the respect it deserved.  What was happening on the Miramichi was truly heartwarming.  There were outfitting lodges, guides, flourishing tackle shops and fly tiers and a host of related support industries.  It was all due to the healthy and seemingly improving Atlantic salmon fishery. 

Over the last 10 years, much of that has changed significantly.  The salmon runs on the NW Miramichi in 2023 were all but non-existent.  Pools that were full of fish 15 years ago held none.  On the SW things were a little better, but just a shadow of what they had been earlier. 

When you hear a story like this it is typically to do with some unusual disaster like the construction of a new dam or the impact of excessive commercial fishing.  Nothing like this is the case.  The Miramichi has never been dammed and is still a largely a wilderness river where salmon successfully spawn and their parr grow to become smolts.  The current problem is completely caused by the policies of the Moncton office of DFO.  In short, they have over-protected the striped bass using the Miramichi River as a spawning and nursery ground to populate the entire Gulf of Saint Lawrence.  This policy has been very damaging to not only the salmon fishery but also the Miramichi’s other sea run fisheries of brook trout, smelts, gaspereau and shad. Additionally, DFO Moncton’s policies are rapidly destroying a way of life along the river that goes back many generations. 

In addition to grossly over-protecting the striped bass, DFO Moncton has refused to allow the conservation community to do anything meaningful to help the salmon numbers.  For over a hundred years the Miramichi River’s salmon population was supplemented by a hatchery that for most of that time was owned and operated by the DFO.  Due to the personal prejudices of some staff members, the current operator of the hatchery – the Miramichi Salmon Association – has not been allowed to continue historic salmon fry stocking programs at any meaningful level.  The double-barreled approach of an out-of-control striped bass population and only token fry stocking has been catastrophic. 

The original re-building target for Miramichi striped bass was 30,000 adult fish.  These fish are the apex predator in their inshore niche, and nature never intended the ocean to be full of them.  DFO biologist Gerald Chaput observed regarding salmon smolts that “…the years when Striped Bass spawner abundances exceeded approximately 100 thousand spawners corresponded to years with visibly lower estimated survival rates.”  Despite being fully aware of this information many years ago, DFO Moncton has allowed the bass population to grow to in excess of 500,000 fish – some years over 1,000,000 – and to stay consistently at these high levels. 

The bass population was historically held in check by commercial fishing activity in the Miramichi River and along the Northumberland coast.  There is a token commercial quota currently given to First Nations only.  Not nearly enough bass are harvested from the population to reduce their bloated numbers.  The striped bass could be a substantial and profitable commercial fishery for the Province of New Brunswick as they are on the East Coast of America.  The striped bass harvest in both the commercial and recreational fisheries must be liberalized considerably. 

In addition to this DFO needs to work with the local scientific community – all the prominent members of which recommend stocking fry into the Miramichi – to substantially supplement the numbers of fry in the river until the adult spawning population can recover and live in balance with the bass.

I hope that you will use the powers of your office to direct your Moncton staff to make the necessary changes for Atlantic salmon to recover in the Miramichi.  The situation has gone on for far too long.  There is no more time for studying the matter – nor is any further studying needed.   We must reduce the bass to 100,000 spawners and allow the large-scale stocking of salmon fry to commence. 


Your name and address 


e-mail address of minister:  DFO.Minister-Ministre.MPO@dfo-mpo.gc.ca


e-mail address of other important politicians:  e-mail addresses of other important political contacts














Fishing Friends:

9 Comments on “Letter To the New Minister, The Honorable Diane Lebouthillier

  1. Great job Brad. I recently reached out to the MSA, DFO, ASF, Anqotum, NBSC, POGA-NB, CRI, and others to better understand the best way to move forward in enhancing the Miramichi salmon population. After reading all of the responses it is clear that the mortality rate of outmigrating smolts is the main priority that MUST be addressed.
    I agree that though so many of us are frustrated and feel like we are not being heard by the decision makers now is not the time to stop. I encourage everyone who reads your blog to WRITE these letters.

  2. Great job Brad. I recently reached out to the MSA, DFO, ASF, Anqotum, NBSC, POGA-NB, CRI, and others to better understand the best way to move forward in enhancing the Miramichi salmon population. After reading all of the responses it is clear that the mortality rate of outmigrating smolts is the main priority that MUST be addressed.
    I agree that though so many of us are frustrated and feel like we are not being heard by the decision makers now is not the time to stop. I encourage everyone who reads your blog to WRITE these letters.


  3. The stripped bass problem is bigger than salmon… the issue is starting to impact on commercial fisheries as well… lots more money at play here… stocksnof mackerel and herring going down…. having to import mackerel as baits for lobster fishing… there is a clear issue at hand… the same thing needs to be done with the seal population… over a million of them in the gulf… how much food do they take from the ecosystem. First time I saw seals chasing bass in group this year… it is time to help salmon and other species such as sea trout, mackerel and herring by reducing amount of stripped bass and seals….

    • A whole line of thumbs up Ray! I hope that you put that in your letter to the Minister. Strips of seal meat with the skin on would undoubtedly make great lobster bait and you wouldn’t have to change it nearly as often.

  4. Stocking stocking and stocking and more stocking of all sport fish in NB needs to be stepped up 1000 fold, agreed !!!

    The Canadian Rivers Institute spent the summer capturing and emptying the stomach contents of 1350 striped bass from the Miramichi, out of all the Bass surveyed, 3 that’s right THREE smolts were eaten. These are documented numbers. Granted if there’s a million bass that’s 2200 smolts ,but if numbers are that low stock stock stock.

    The massive clearcutting on the headwaters of the Miramichi and the reduction of the buffer zone from 300 meters by two thirds, to 100 meters and to nothing, in some places I’ve seen (take a drive into Sullivan Stretch on the northwest or Adams stretch on the little southwest) has raised the water temperatures and siltation to levels that will not support salmon and trout during key migration and spawning periods.
    We cant get Irving to put the hardwood canopy back that used to shade the headwaters but we can try to manage the river as a system.
    We cant get the factory trawlers to stay out of our waters, but saying the bass that have always lived in the Miramichi are out of control because they ate all the smolts is a foolish assumption.
    Letting more commercial fishing happen at the mouth of the Miramichi system for Bass or any species is not the answer to the salmon problem.
    Just one mans opinion.
    Best regards,


    • Andrew – we know from tagging work that the mortality on smolts as they leave the river is very high and is caused by striped bass gathered in the mouth of the river to spawn. 80% used to make it out. It is now under 30% and much lower than that on the NWM where the greatest bass spawning takes place. All this takes place in a few days. After that the remaining smolts are by the bass and there are very few parr in the lower reaches of the river to feed the bass. That is the reason so few show up in studies undertaken during the summer.

      It may be true that forest management practices are hurting the river, but we do know that the Miramichi is still producing good number of parr and then smolts. The problem is that they are not making it by the bass grouped at the mouth of the river to spawn. Brad

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