Our Man In Canada
January 24th, 2000

Atlantic Salmon and/or Aquaculture

Pour Francois

Chris Marshall
By Chris Marshall

Back in August, Paul Marriner phoned to invite me down for a week on the Margaree at the end of October. I put off making a decision until the eleventh hour, but finally had to turn him down - just too much to do with the magazine - and spent the time with my nose against the computer screen and my mind on misty Cape Breton sunrises and salmon rolling in the bright water.

When we talked-early in November, I must admit I felt a certain smugness when Paul reported that they'd had little sport as there were very few fish in the river. It's possible that the heavy rains earlier in the month had induced most fish to run up into the headwaters, but the absence of fish in what is, perhaps, Nova Scotia's most prolific fall salmon river was disturbing.

The Atlantic salmon is the most threatened sport fish in the northern hemisphere. Its range has shrunk. On rivers where salmon once teemed, the runs have vanished or been significantly depleted from the effects of acid rain, dams, logging, mining and a host of other intrusions of civilization. Spawning runs in eastern Canada, especially Nova Scotia, have been disrupted by a succession of summers of drought-induced low water flows. The ocean feeding grounds and the forage species on which the salmon depend, have been disrupted by severe drops in temperature as a result of climate change.

Conservation groups on both sides of the Atlantic have fought heroically to halt - even reverse - the slide into extinction. During the nineties, tremendous strides were made in curtailing commercial harvests, both in the rivers and on the high seas. Aquaculture was welcomed by commercial and sports fishers alike as a non-threatening alternative to commercial fishing, and improved runs of salmon on a number of rivers seemed to indicate that the this strategy was working.

But, ironically, aquaculture now appears to have become as much a problem as it was a solution. While aquaculture took much of the pressure off the commercial harvest of wild fish, it's now threatening the very existence of those wild fish it had initially protected - in the form of effluent from closely packed ocean pens, transferred parasites and diseases, and genetic contamination from exotic strains of escaped cultured fish. Even as we go to press, the first ever case of Infectious Salmon Anemia (a deadly disease found in farmed Atlantic salmon) has been found in wild salmon in the Magaguadavic River in New Brunswick.

This is chilling, but not unexpected news. But where do we go from here? Presently, populations of Atlantic salmon in the ocean have been reduced to a mere 10% of what they were only twenty years ago. Healing of human-induced damage to habitat is a Herculean task; and dealing with the effects of climate change virtually impossible. However, tackling the adverse effects of aquaculture is a task well within our scope. Aquaculture is a relatively new practice. There is still time for us to fight for rigorous controls and responsible methods that will prevent the transfer of disease, parasites and genetic contamination of wild fish. In an interview with Erik Poole in this issue of The Canadian Fly Fisher, the new Fisheries Minister, Herb Dhaliwal, appears to support the need for such measures - an encouraging situation.

This is a huge country and many of us live far from the Atlantic Ocean, and Atlantic salmon fishing is something which we can only read or dream about. But the threat is one which affects us all - not only because what happens in the Maritimes today can happen in the Prairies tomorrow, but because the death of the Atlantic salmon, so much a part of the history and tradition of fly fishing would diminish each one of us.

There are organisations in this country such as the ASF, TU, FFF, BCFFF - and a host of smaller local bodies - which are in the thick of championing the cause of the Atlantic salmon and every other sport fish. What a difference it would make if every fly fisher enrolled in at least one of these, actively joining the fight to preserve our fish and our fishing. ~ Chris Marshall

Winter Issue
We thank the Canadian Fly Fisher for re-print permission!

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