There has been a fair amount of news this summer about the 20th anniversary of the cod moratorium. With all the media attention on cod, many people seem to have forgotten the other moratorium of 1992 - the closure of the commercial salmon fishery.
As the salmon stocks at that time were becoming more and more scarce, the then federal Minister of Fisheries and Ocean, the Honourable John Crosbie, closed the salmon fishery a few weeks before announcing the cod moratorium.
Ottawa offered licence buyouts to island fishermen and, a year later, extended the offer to Labrador harvesters even though that region wasn’t placed under a moratorium until 1998.
With salmon catches getting smaller and smaller many fish harvesters accepted a buyout and now, 20 years later, the closure has had mixed outcomes overall.
DFO scientist Brian Dempson said monitored rivers along the northeast and northwest coasts saw returns go up substantially within five years of the closure.
However, he said that along the south coast there were fewer and fewer salmon in streams being monitored by scientists.
Both trends have continued down to this very day with few, if any exceptions.
Conne River 2012
Dempson said that Conne River seemed to be getting off to a good year in early June.
He said, “By June 2 there were 100 salmon in the river which was the best count up to that point going back to 1986. By June 8 there were over 200 fish in the river and things were looking pretty food.
“By June 19 we had over 1000 fish, the highest count up to then since 2006 and the second highest number going back to 2000.
However, by June 25 the numbers quickly started dropping off and they’ve continued to be low numbers of fish coming into the river.
As of July 15 we had just under 2000 fish in total which is 25 per cent better than 2011 but still not really where we’d like to see the numbers.”
Dempson said that the challenge for DFO is to find out why Conne River hasn’t performed like many other rivers since the moratorium, especially those on the northeast coast where returns seem to be setting record highs in recent years.
“Conne River returns have stayed fairly low since 1992 although we do see fluctuations from one year to the next. This year is the best since 2008 but it is not so good when you look back over the entire series of information collected over the years.”
Dempson said that the number of salmon returning in any one year is strongly linked to the survival rates at sea.
Apparently, from 1986 to 1990, there was a survival rate of 4.5 to 5 per cent of outgoing smolts returning. Now, for some reason or reasons, this percentage rate is down to about 3 per cent.
This means, for example, that if 50,000 smoths go out, the return rate would be 2500 fish at a five per cent survival rate. However, with a three per cent survival rate, that number of returns is reduced to 1500 fish, which is a big difference.
Dempson said, “From a three-year tracking program, we know that smolts leaving Conne River and Little River do spend a fair amount of time in the Bay d’Espoir fjord area. We also know that their survival rate in the fjord is fairly high.
So, where the mortality is mainly happening seems to be largely something that is going on after they leave e the Bay d’Espoir region.
“We have the continuous issue of looking at small aspects of what might be happening that could be influencing their survival
such as a change in food supply.
“We try and discount some factors and move on to another potential issues which will further help us understand what is going on with the fluctuations in salmon returns to Conne River.
“We have a very good aquaculture section here now that is getting involved with interaction studies between cultured fish and wild fish.
“Over the next several years we hope to see more development in this area which will enable us to better understand why Conne River has not seen an upward trend in salmon returns like rivers elsewhere in the province.”