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The Miramichi needs a voice, not a spokesman.

Link to DFO Recreational Salmon Fishing Survey
Killing the Last Fish
“Now, if lots of fish come in this year we suggested that DFO open it up if lots of fish are coming back,
but if there aren’t enough there you can’t kill the last fish that are there,”
MSA - April 7, 2015

It is surprising how often this phrase crops up in the salmon world lately. The accusation of Miramichiers "wanting to kill the last fish" or the smug warning that "we can't kill the last fish" is often wielded as a sword of closure to sever debate and discredit dissent. Since nobody wants to be singularly responsible for the demise of such a precious resource, this tactic is often as effective as it is deceptive.

The more these apocalyptic predictions abound, the more people stand ready to embrace anything which might offer a solution. The appeal of fear mongering as a tactic is that it suspends reason, forbids scrutiny and demands compliance, usually involving forfeiture of some kind. However, as in the story of Romeo and Juliette, a mistaken belief in the demise of our beloved can produce an impulsive and irreversible response.

Traditional Miramichi angling practices have recently been tainted by accusations of being a greedy angler or a meat man if one even considers taking a grilse for the table. We have heard some pretty nasty rhetoric over the years, including a US director of the ASF in 1998 accusing us of "pathological denial" regarding the plight of the Miramichi and its salmon. A few years back, even a former stalwart of the conservation world fell afoul of overzealous restrictions in his beloved fishing club, with some sad and punitive consequences when he chose to legally retain a grilse.

No legal angler has killed a salmon on the Miramichi in 31 years and nobody wants to. Miramichi anglers have readily embraced, defended and complied with the requirement to release all Multi Sea Winter salmon since 1984. The exemplary initiative for this measure actually came from a grass roots movement of Miramichi residents and not from any of the present players in the conservation industry who so vigorously seek to overextend its original intent.

What is in question here is the possibility of harvesting a small percentage of one component of the run, namely the predominantly male, 1 sea winter grilse, which is of no real consequence to the overall health of the spawning effort. As a 2010 internal MSA discussion document readily admits "The goal to have sufficient eggs for conservation requirements being derived from large salmon means that grilse are primarily required to fertilize the eggs and the harvesting of grilse shouldn't affect reproductive success since one male grilse can fertilize several female salmon and precocious male parr can also fertilize adult salmon eggs." There are many healthy salmon rivers in Canada which have very few grilse in them at all, and yet their salmon populations are sustainable and even able to withstand a limited harvest of large salmon.

At best, a vigorous retention angling effort is likely to intercept a small fraction (10 - 15%) of the grilse portion of the run, which in many years is less than 50% of the overall population. By definition, a grilse harvest will always be linked to abundance as its success will, by its very nature, be limited to a small percentage of the available population in any given season. Advocating on behalf of this time-honoured practice is hardly suggesting that we kill the last fish in the river and those who insist that it is are deliberately misrepresenting the issue.

You simply do not encounter this "no kill" fixation in organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, the Ruffed Grouse Society or most other sportsman's groups but in the past two decades, it has slowly and surely consumed the salmon conservation industry. This is particularly interesting when one reflects back upon the Atlantic Salmon Federation's Dr. Wilfred Carter and his stand against Lee Wulff's call to make the Atlantic salmon a game fish. In 1990, the New York Times reported:
"Carter admits that the emotional appeal of such a campaign would be compelling, but adds that ''in practical terms the losses (by alienation of civil servants, politicians and citizens) might easily outweigh the gains.'' Dr. Carter goes on to say that Canada ''has accepted the fact that non-producing countries (countries with no salmon rivers) such as Greenland and the Faeroes, in whose waters Atlantic salmon from North America feed and grow, are entitled to catch some fish.'' (Full Article)
Dr. Carter's grasp of the "risk of alienation" and his affirmation of "entitlement to a harvest based upon proximity to population" would be a welcome change from the shrill rhetoric which now erodes, threatens and even denies the Miramichi's cultural angling heritage. We could certainly do with a little more old school pragmatism in today's management decisions instead of the hyperbole and distortions which characterize this new extremist ideology.

Killing the last fish, indeed!

Jerry Doak
January 2016