Miramichi Salmon Blog – Depths of winter 2024

Fishing Friends –                                                                                                                                                         

I’ve got three items I’d like to share with you today.  The first is a published article by a recent UNB law graduate, Jake Bryden, that analyzes what he feels is the illegal harvest of salmon in Greenland, the second features our US Winter Event guest speaker Sir Michael Wigan and his home salmon fishery, the River Helmsdale in Scotland, then last we will talk about what we have learned so far from our letter writing campaign to the new Minister of DFO Diane Lebouthillier.

Greenland’s Illegal Salmon Fishery?

Greenlandic fisherman with some freshly netted wild salmon, probably of Canadian river origin.

I received the following e-mail from Jake Bryden: I am a recent graduate from UNB Law with a keen interest in angling. I am reaching out to share my recently published paper in the UNB Law Journal titled “Anadromous Fishes and International Borders – Is Greenland Violating the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea?”

In this paper, I assert that Canada holds rights to Atlantic salmon when they are feeding off the coast of Greenland, citing various provisions within UNCLOS. Additionally, I present arguments, supported by recent scientific research, that suggest Greenland’s fishery practices are unsustainable. Consequently, I conclude that UNCLOS grants Canada the authority to participate in decisions regarding the annual harvest of salmon in Greenland.

You can access the full paper on page 176 of the University of New Brunswick Law Journal via CanLII. [Page 176 | University of New Brunswick Law Journal | CanLII]”

A couple of my friends who are attorneys are also looking at this information to formulate their opinions.  The full paper is not burdensomely long, and it is well worth taking a few minutes to read it.  I will say that we have been told repeatedly that Greenland does not live up to its agreements after having been paid to reduce their catch of salmon.  Certainly a much stronger solution would be for a legal judgement to be rendered against Greenland.  Another contention of Jake’s is that Greenland is legally required to allow Canada to participate in the management of Greenland’s fishery since it is primarily made up of salmon spawned in Canadian Rivers.  Many of us believe that Greenland’s harvest of wild Atlantic salmon should be zero just as it is for almost all the rest of us.  In any case, this potential legal angle is a breath of fresh air, since any buyout arrangement is at best a temporary, stop-gap measure.

Sir Michael Wigan and the Helmsdale

Sir Micahel Wigan of the Helmsdale River

On Feb 3rd, 2024, the MSA US is going to be holding its Winter Event 2024 at the Portland Country Club in Falmouth, ME.  Funds raised in this event will go to helping the MSA fund its mission to conserve and enhance the Atlantic salmon population of the Miramichi River.  You can get your tickets now at this link.

Our guest of honor will be Sir Michael Wigan, owner of Borrobol Estate in Kinbrace, Scotland, and a Scottish author of books on subjects like salmon fishing, stag shooting and the pluses of the sporting estate business in the Highlands of Scotland.  I first heard of Mr. Wigan quite a few years ago while fishing on the River Thurso.  He was scheduled to speak at the annual meeting of the Thurso Angling Association.  After that I read a couple of Mr. Wigan’s books, and finally met him while fishing on the Helmsdale last spring, I asked him to speak at our MSA dinner and he agreed.  Mr. Wigan has fished just about everywhere for salmon including a trip some years ago to Wilson’s on the Miramichi.

A well-known and connected salmon fisher and author of his day, Augustus Grimble, wrote in 1899 that: “The Helmsdale Is one of the best, if not the very best, of the early angling rivers, so much so that on the day before Christmas Day sixty clean (fresh run) salmon were taken from the Manse Pool in one haul of the net.”  Yes, the day before Christmas!  Throughout the inventory of Scottish salmon rivers there are many where some number of bright salmon arrive in every month of the year.  Naturally there are more in April than in January, but still, some enter every month of the year.

Ghillie John Young illustrates how to fish this complicated pool on the Helmsdale.

Times have changed in many ways, but the Helmsdale remains one of the very best rivers in the Northern Highlands of Scotland.  It doesn’t run completely on its own, though, and to keep up with the pressures that all salmon rivers find themselves under these days, Mr. Wigan, as the manager of the Helmsdale District Salmon Fishery Board, oversees a stock enhancement effort that assesses parr concentrations in the river, collects and spawns out appropriate numbers of brood stock, and places the fry in areas of the river found to be needing some additional stocks.  This flexible system has helped the river’s quality of fishing remain very stable over the years.

Letters to Minister of DFO Diane Lebouthillier

First, I want to thank everyone who read my post about writing to the new Minister.  Clearly quite a few did since a fair number of people copied me on their letters.  There were a lot of individual comments that I thought were great.  I have been schooled before that communications, whether regular postal or e-mail coming from one central source, just do not have the impact with politicians that letters or e-mails from individual, private addresses do.  Certainly, any communication is far better than none, and it is never too late to speak up.  So, if you have not sent in your e-mail to Minister Lebouthillier, then please, here is the link to the post.  Please take a few minutes, read the sample letter, change it if you wish, then copy, paste and send it to the names in the updated e-mail lists at the end of the post.

One enlightening piece of information came in a reply from the Ottawa staff of MP Jake Stewart of Blackville.  They provided me with this quote that Mr. Stewart made to the House of Commons: “Before I get into the meat and potatoes of it all, a few comments I heard: I am really encouraged by the fact that the Liberal member from Nova Scotia acknowledges that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is a complete failure on just about every front.

    In Miramichi—Grand Lake, it failed the Atlantic salmon, the fish, the species, the community itself, all of the people who benefit from it, in a vast, almost unprecedented, level. It actually does not even deserve the right to govern it any more. As a federal MP, I am left believing that, with regard to the Atlantic salmon, though a federal jurisdiction, it has lost the right to govern it. It actually does not care. The people where I live know this and it is heart-wrenching for all of us.

    My dad was an outfitter. I grew up a salmon fisherman and a guide, so I have seen a very serious decline in that species.”

Stewart’s office encouraged me to make sure we included Dominic LeBlanc who Stewart’s office says was the Minister of DFO at a time when many of today’s “egregious policies” were instituted.   I guess that some of this may be conservative versus liberal politics, but no matter what side of the isle you are on DFO management in recent years has been disastrous for salmon.  The recently released “We Heard” document seems to indicate that DFO is now willing to listen to the people.  Well, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so let’s make sure that they hear us.

Thanks for reading.

Brad Burns

P.S.  Finally the Miramichi is frozen solid.  It even looks like real winter there today – cold, heavy dark overcast and spitting snow.  Perfect!


9 Comments on “Miramichi Salmon Blog – Depths of winter 2024

  1. Good stuff, Brad Thanks for sharing. I’d be interested in learning more about the Liberal vs Conservative political positions on DFO.

    • I don’t have any light to shed on that one, but I do know that the current DFO management has been a complete and utter disaster for the salmon.

    • Native spin fishers kill 1000 salmon yearly in the Cascapedia. Who knows how many are killed in native nets in the Ristigouche. Greenland is not the problem. This Canadian slaughter is not discussed. It’s a dirty little secret.

      • Richard – Greenland’s harvest is approximately 20,000 adult salmon. Does that make the FN harvest in Quebec right? As you must know FN has special rights. It is a long, long discussion. Certainly, the FN harvest makes it much harder to get Greenland to stop what they are doing. The whole situation is a terrible mess. Brad

  2. Hey Brad
    Thank you for another great report. I was very intrigued and somewhat frustrated to read about the well thought out stocking program in Scotland. Pleased for them…frustrated that much more stocking isn’t being done in the Miramichi. Yes, the number 1 issue is to have DFO finally address the striped bass issue in order to improve the survival rate of outmigrating smolts. In fact, it’s crucial, but it sure would be nice to see a significant, strategic stocking program, too. Keep up the great work!

    PS This is the biggest letter writing campaign I’ve been a part of …every salmon fisher I know is or gas written

    • Bob – I’ve had quite a few more people copy me than did last winter. I think it says how upset people are becoming. We’ll see how far it gets us. Decision time is coming up fairly soon. Brad

  3. Well, Native spin fishers kill approximately 1000 large salmon in the Grand Cascapedia. Who knows how many are netted by natives in the Ristigouche. Greenland does not hold a candle to this slaughter.

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