Recreational Atlantic Salmon Fishing—InquiryPublished on 11 March 2015 Hansard and Statements by Senator Joseph Day
Hon. Joseph A. Day:
Honourable senators, this is an inquiry by the Honourable Senator Maltais calling the attention of the Senate to the protection of the Atlantic salmon sport fishery in the marine areas of Eastern Canada. I want to say a few words because salmon fishing is such an important East Coast industry and sport, or has been, and it’s deserving of our attention.
The general protection of the Canadian East Coast fisheries industry is a major Maritime economic preoccupation and public policy issue, honourable senators. The future of the Maritime fishery sector should also be of concern to all Canadians. I do appreciate and acknowledge that there is also another fishery on the West Coast, but I restrict my remarks to the East Coast fishery in relation to salmon at this time.
Senator Maltais gave a comprehensive historical overview of the decline of the East Coast fishery. That said, I have a few comments to add.
Senator Maltais criticizes the current state of our salmon fishery as an ongoing act of pillage. I applaud his choice of strong vocabulary. I also want to reflect on his characterization of the habits of seals. His use of the term “salmon killers and eaters, and river pirates” to describe the long-term effect of the overpopulation of seals, the long-term predators and enemy of salmon, adds to this spicy inquiry.
The toing and froing of salmon decline and seal harvesting is a perspective demanding a balanced discussion, honourable senators. Unfortunately, in spite of considerable effort by Canadians to bring such balance to the fishery controversy, the negative perspective of seal harvesting is played out in the media year after year in a narrow, image-hyped condemnation of the culling of baby seals. It is a phony narrative in which European movie stars and public personalities such as Don Cherry invoke the image of cuddly baby seals as a way of attracting public attention or getting their faces on the cover of popular magazines using seals as props.
The popular media have, in large part, been responsible for promoting a negative image of our efforts to reduce the seal population.
The media refuse to endorse the urgent need to return Maritime fisheries to the principle of ecological preservation, transparency, restoration and balance, all of which are inherent in the realities of Mother Nature.
Evolution has travelled a long, bumpy, unpredictable road, honourable senators. When Mother Nature is left to her own devices, we survive and ecosystems continue to prosper, but when Mother Nature is challenged by the devices of man, the end result can produce a disastrous ripple effect on employment, ecological stability and the availability of food itself.
Let us put this another way: Mother Nature presides over a world of benefactors and predators. Every action we take to alter this balance can lead to friction, surprises, losses, and the ultimate need for us to clear up the messes that we ourselves have caused or that we have not prevented.
Seals are smart predators, just like the wolves in southern Alberta. Let me explain. Seals gather at the mouth of Maritime rivers to kill salmon, cod and turbot. The average adult seal devours 75 to 100 pounds of salmon each day, and the salmon are killed both while exiting the mouths of the rivers and on their attempted return from the ocean to our inland and Maritime waterways to spawn.
I have avid and vivid memories of seeing thousands of salmon in the rivers in the area where I grew up the Saint John, the Kennebecasis, the Hammond, the Little Salmon River and the Big Salmon River before the booming of the seal population, that is.
Today, there are virtually no salmon in any of those rivers. Gone is the sport fishing there, and gone is the commercial salmon fishing in Saint John Harbour. Our lack of action to encourage seal culling, therefore, has hindered Mother Nature. The rapid increase of adult seals is a serious impediment to the vitality and the sustainment of our entire fishing industry in Atlantic Canada.
In the Alberta case that I referred to earlier, westerners know that the same kind of issue is at play between wolves and deer. When major roadways were being redesigned in southern Alberta, the planners decided to provide tunnels at regular intervals under busy highways to enable wildlife to cross under the roads in a grand effort to reduce roadkill. By trying to help the deer population to cross barriers through culverts, the project actually added to their decline. The smart wolves realized that by hiding at the end of the under road culvert, they would be able to make very easy prey of the deer, potentially upsetting Mother Nature’s balance.
The Alberta effort to circumvent road barriers in order to save wildlife is an interesting comparison to the fisheries conservation effort at river mouths in Atlantic Canada. This strategy seeks to protect salmon flow of migrating salmon by providing buffer zones in the form of banks at the mouths of the rivers that help to block the adult seals from harvesting the migrating salmon. Sometimes we help Mother Nature, sometimes we don’t.
Trying to help Mother Nature by protecting deer in Alberta or limiting the seal culling in the Maritimes can lead to a variety of unintended consequences. However, it is clear that in the Atlantic salmon issue of renewed growth and conservation, and respect for Mother Nature that conservation implies, the demand for culling of seals is not only reasonable, it’s urgent.
The long evolution of Mother Nature has culminated in a balance of survival triggers, which preside over a multitude of ecological challenges, but are more and more being interfered with around the planet in so many fields of endeavour. The least of these is certainly not our own Canadian Atlantic fishery. Perhaps this should be our greatest focus, while pursuing conservation strategies. Our challenge is to help Mother Nature, not to challenge her.
During his remarks on this issue, former Senator Fernand Robichaud described the past 20 years as the most critical period for the fishery, which is in decline not only because of the lack of salmon, but also because of the serious decrease in the number of cod and turbot.
Maritime Canada’s economy is deeply affected by the health, or lack of it, of both commercial fishery and sport fishing. Both the Aboriginal community and the Acadians have savoured and relied on seafood in their diets for hundreds of years, and the export of seafood around the Maritimes and beyond has been an anchor of the Maritimes’ economy in the past.
The following figures tell some of the story: In New Brunswick alone, several hundred full-time jobs serve and support sport fishing and tourism. But the economic value of recreational fishing in New Brunswick dropped 20 per cent between 2010 and 2012, because of the decline of salmon stock in the Miramichi and the Restigouche rivers. In 2012, New Brunswick’s salmon fishery alone was estimated to have contributed $54.7 million to Canada’s gross domestic product. Two years later, the figure was estimated to have declined by 20 per cent.
Of extreme importance is the international perspective. In efforts to promote conservation, the role of governments throughout the North Atlantic is critical to the restoration of the Atlantic salmon fishery. Government inaction, evasion and denial in France by way of its surrogate St-Pierre and Miquelon, and in Denmark by way of its surrogate, Greenland, suggests that our foreign affairs personnel have much work to do to represent the financial interests of Atlantic Canada vigorously and effectively on the issues of overfishing, conservation, culling and renewal, but our efforts will not be very effective if we operate in a vacuum.
What we do to restore the North Atlantic fishery urgently needs to be matched by the North Atlantic national players. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea has declared that ocean harvesting of salmon should cease until the level of health of all target fisheries population is scientifically known, and that river harvesting of salmon should only continue when conservation limits have been exceeded.
Of course, international cooperation is essential to the Maritimes’ economic survival, especially when one considers the following: Recent genetic assessment reveals that North Atlantic salmon that were harvested in Greenland originated from a variety of locations, including the Quebec north shore, Labrador, Gaspé, parts of United States and the Maritimes.
In his statement to the Atlantic Salmon Federation in June last year, the President of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Bill Taylor, stressed the urgent need for international cooperation on all aspects of the survival of the maritime and North Atlantic salmon industry. Both Greenland and France have been targeted for criticism. International organizations have pleaded with Greenland to cease North Atlantic salmon harvesting altogether, and France has been urged to participate in the development of an international conservation agreement, but thus far has refused to do so.
Obviously, our Department of Foreign Affairs has a key role to play in all of this. A typical example of the international challenge was an incident less than two years ago when a fishery in St-Pierre and Miquelon intercepted and harvested 5.3 tonnes of salmon that were attempting to migrate to their home rivers in the Gaspé and the Maritimes so that they could spawn and create more salmon.
The governments of the North Atlantic can solve the harvesting issue. The salmon industry desperately needs their collaborative efforts to do so. I believe the government has an important public relations role to play in promoting the maritime economic narrative that covers all aspects of North Atlantic salmon conservation and restoration, and the restoration challenge.
As Canadian parliamentarians, we must speak out on this injustice.
Hon. David P. Smith: Would the honourable senator take a question?
Senator Day: I would be pleased to.
Senator D. Smith: In your opinion, as between Atlantic salmon and Pacific salmon —
Senator Munson: There’s no comparison.
Senator D. Smith: — which tastes better?
Senator Day: Thank you for your question. I would highly recommend that you do a sampling yourself. I’m hoping that we can still find an Atlantic salmon for you because, as I pointed out, it’s in extreme decline at the present time.
Honourable senators will know that taste is in the mouth of the beholder, so I would leave that entirely to you.
Senator D. Smith: When I go for fish at the St. Lawrence Market, which is a well-known market, I usually see that Atlantic salmon is a little pricier, but then there’s quite a difference between whether or not it’s farmed or totally wild. How much farming is going on down in the Atlantic area of salmon?
Senator Day: I’m glad the honourable senator asked me that question. I have always felt that farming is an indication of demand. When I learned that salmon farming on the West Coast included cages of Atlantic salmon, that was an indication to me that even the West Coast wants Atlantic salmon.