Atlantic salmon stocks still in serious trouble

Atlantic salmon stocks still in serious trouble

The North American stock of wild Atlantic salmon is in trouble, according to the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES).

In a recent report, the group said data collected last year indicated that the number of young salmon returning to Maine and Canadian rivers to spawn during 2016 was extremely small and that only extremely limited salmon fishing should be allowed.

The international Atlantic salmon fishery is controlled by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO), an international organization established in 1984. Its objectives are “to conserve, restore, enhance and rationally manage Atlantic salmon” using the best available scientific information. That information comes primarily from ICES.

According to the recent ICES report, the number of grilse salmon returning to North American rivers in 2016 was just 430,900 — 31 percent lower than the previous year. Grilse are Atlantic salmon returning to spawn in their natal rivers after one winter at sea. That small number suggests that there also will be lower numbers of large salmon returning to North American rivers this year.

In the United States, Atlantic salmon returned to several rivers between Connecticut and Maine, but salmon are “at critically low population levels.”

Overall, scientists counted just 626 salmon returning to East Coast rivers last year. That’s a decline of 32 percent from the 921 salmon that returned to the rivers in 2015.


If there is any good news, returns for rivers feeding into the Gulf of Maine were down only 30 percent compared with a 61 percent decline in central New England rivers and a 77 percent drop in returns to rivers feeding into Long Island Sound.

Along the Maine coast, the Penobscot River saw 507 salmon — 286 salmon that had spent at least two winters at sea and 218 grilse — return. The Penobscot salmon run accounted for 81 percent of Atlantic salmon returning to all U.S. rivers.

Also in Maine, the Kennebec River had 39 Atlantic salmon return and the Androscoggin six, the Narraguagus three and the Saco two.

Just seven salmon were recorded as returning to rivers in Connecticut.

In Canada, it wasn’t only grilse that were in short supply. Returns of larger fish that had spent at least two winters in the ocean (second winter fish) “remained near record lows” in rivers throughout all of Atlantic Canada and Gulf of St. Lawrence, except in Labrador.

There, the report said, some 46,375 second-year spawners returned, the second highest number on record. Fisheries scientists expressed some doubt about those numbers and called for “additional monitoring” to accurately describe the status of the stock in Labrador.

The ocean fishery has a significant impact on the Atlantic salmon stock.

In 2016, fishermen harvested about 41.3 tons of salmon (about 12,390 fish) from the seas off the coast of Greenland. Of that total, some 66 percent (about 8,227 fish) were of North American origin.

The French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, off the south coast of Newfoundland, landed an additional 4.7 tons of salmon, an increase of 34 percent from 2015. Of that harvest, genetic testing showed that at least 87 percent of the fish were of Canadian origin.

Because of the difficulty of identifying whether a particular fish comes from a river with a healthy spawning returns or not, ICES scientists are recommending that fisheries on “mixed stocks” of Atlantic salmon — from more than one river — be limited.

The total harvest in Canada was 135 tons (58,016 fish), including both grilse and larger fish. The Canadian fishery is divided among recreational anglers, a First Nation People harvest and a subsistence Labrador Resident Food Fishery.

No harvest of wild Atlantic salmon is currently allowed in the United States.

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June 27, 2017 at 09:02PM


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