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What’s going on in Canada with striped bass, and how does it effect fly fishermen and the Atlantic salmon? Correspondent Paul Marriner check ins about a move to relax harvest restrictions on striped bass in Maritime rivers flowing into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Not to worry – this will have no impact on our dwindling stocks here in the United States. You will support the decision and perhaps want to get in on the opportunity once you understand the situation. Marriner writes:
“After a 13-year closure to promote population recovery, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has opened a trial season for striped bass in maritime rivers flowing into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Initially, they announced a 15-day retention period (May 1 to May 15, 2013) followed by a catch-and-release season extending until September 30. After assessing the initial retention period, DFO announced a second from August 2 to 11. During both periods the possession limit was one fish between 55 and 65 centimeters (approximately 21 to 25 inches). Particularly in the Miramichi area, anglers were very successful and, according to anecdotal reports, fly fishers outperformed all others. Several correspondents reported as many as 50 releases a day during the first few weeks. Not surprisingly, access to a boat was essential to produce the big numbers.
“Atlantic salmon anglers and the Atlantic Salmon Federation were particularly pleased with the DFO decision to create these seasons. Why? Because the number of smolts (juvenile salmon heading to the saltwater) leaving the Miramichi system has been declining for several years, and that decline is thought to be linked, at least in part, to a rebound of the local striped bass population. Part of the problem is the bass spawning run and the smolt migration overlap. The larger problem is the sheer number of striped bass that have appeared in the area of late. The head-oftide area of the Northwest Miramichi is considered a major striped bass spawning site, but my sources confirm that more and more bass are being caught in the lower nontidal section of the Main Southwest Miramichi throughout the salmon season. The Miramichi Salmon Association has stated that ‘it is gravely concerned about the large number of striped bass spawning in the estuary with estimates as high as 400,000 of these fish.’ The association recommends an unrestricted fishery from April 15 to June 15, 2014, to diminish the bass population.
“At this writing, DFO has not publicly confirmed a 2014 season, but the fact that it opened a second retention period strongly suggests at least a replay of the initial announcement. One useful note is that no license is needed in tidal waters, where most of the bass are found. With some exceptions, these tidal waters are also outside the New Brunswick ‘guide-required’ zones, though this is of limited importance to anglers from outside the area who will generally need or want the services of an outfitter. In that regard, anglers who want to get in on whatever seasons are allowed this year may want to contact Upper Oxbow Outdoor Adventures (www.upperoxbow.com) and Country Haven (www.miramichifish.com). These outfitters have already prepared striped bass packages for 2014.
“Three items are worthy of note here. First, the probable dates for the early 2014 season coincide with the spring bear-hunting season. Those taking advantage of this opportunity should not be surprised if outfitters have hunting parties in residence at the time of their visit. Second, since the prime purpose of the season this spring will be to reduce the number of striped bass present, visiting anglers should be prepared to do their part and retain their allowable limit. Retaining a limit of fish does not mean one must stop catch-and-release fishing. Third, at least during the period from April 15 to May 15, outfitters are likely to abide by the salmon kelt-fishing safety regulation of one angler per guide when fishing from a boat.”
Postscript: To get some perspective on this report, we turned to Brad Burns, president of Stripers Forever (www .stripersforever.org), the U.S.-based conservation organization that has been sounding the alarm about excessive harvest of striped bass along the northeastern coast. Most U.S. stripers spawn in Chesapeake Bay, he explained. There is little, if any, connection between the local Miramichi population and the stripers off the coast of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and adjoining states. “I own a couple of pools and a camp on the Main Southwest Miramichi in Blackville and another camp up on the Cains,” Burns writes. “I am very familiar with the situation your writer describes. In comparison to the Chesapeake, the Northwest Miramichi is pristine. The striped bass in that area don’t have to contend with the environmental threats our fish face in their principal spawning area, Chesapeake Bay. Also, the fishing pressure they face is nothing like the fishing pressure ours face. On the other hand, the reproductive potential of the Northwest Miramichi is quite limited for striped bass – at least in comparison to the Chesapeake – and those fish plunged in number just as ours did a while back due to overfishing of various sorts. As a result, the Canadians protected their Miramichi-area striped bass for many, many years until the population bounced back recently. Historically, Atlantic salmon and stripers in the Miramichi system had a natural balance that probably ebbed and flowed with the times and conditions. Currently, though, stripers are at peak abundance, and while the Miramichi is still producing lots of parr and smolts, conditions in the ocean are holding down salmon returns to a record low percentage of outgoing smolts. Some of this may well be that the smolts leaving the river in late May have to run a gauntlet of hungry stripers massed off the confluence of the Northwest and Southwest Miramichi rivers to make their spawning run. The exact extent of the carnage is unknown, but the eightinch smolts are coming down the river at exactly the wrong time for them, with over 100,000 hungry stripers lying in wait. The Miramichi Salmon Association (www.miramichisalmon.ca) has led the fight to open a season-long striped bass retention fishery on the Miramichi. Your members could really help by joining the MSA – which is also very active in all aspects of Atlantic salmon conservation. I am a board member of the MSA, and it is a fine voice for conservation on the river as well as a very proactive organization doing everything from running a big salmon hatchery to ripping out beaver dams in the tributaries that prevent spawning salmon from reaching their grounds.”