Atlantic salmon declines worsen, conservationists report

Posted Jun 18, 2017 by Karen Graham
The population estimate for North American Atlantic salmon in 2016 was dismal, coming in lower than the year before and raising the specter of an even worse decline for 2017, according to conservationists.
CTV News is reporting that fewer and fewer of North America's Atlantic salmon are making it back to rivers to spawn, according to the New Brunswick, Canada-based Atlantic Salmon Federation(ASF), an international conservation group.
Atlantic salmon used to be abundant in both the rivers of New England and Atlantic Canada. Now, they are endangered and actually have disappeared from some areas in both countries. We are talking about native wild Atlantic salmon, not farm-raised salmon.
Hatchery-raised salmon.
Hatchery-raised salmon.
Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
Wild salmon are born in rivers, swim out to the Atlantic Ocean and return to the river where they were born to spawn, repeating a cycle that has gone on for millennia. ABC News cited a report released this month by the ASF that showed estimates of returning salmon in 2016 only came to about half-a-million, a 27 percent decrease in the preceding year's count.
Of particular concern were the numbers of young salmon who only spent one winter at sea, called grilse, that returned last year.
The ASF report says the 2016 grilse return rate was a third lower than in 2015.
“Last year’s grilse and this year’s two sea-winter fish went to sea at the same time,” said ASF President Bill Taylor. “With grilse returns down sharply and quota left unfilled in Greenland, it suggests this year's class has struggled to survive.”
ASF spokesman Neville Crabbe told CTV News, "What do we do? We've asked people to choose to kill fewer salmon. The long term solution is government to government agreements." The report reads that ASF is "urging anglers and indigenous groups to exercise caution by practicing live release or allowing more fish to pass upriver."
Atlantic salmon face a number of challenges
Besides the presence of river dams, there is continuing fishing pressure off of Canada and Greenland that haven't helped the Atlantic salmon's population. Added to that is the environmental changes taking place in the North Atlantic. There have been changes in the type and availability of prey that salmon feed on, causing them to exert more energy to get the same amount of food.
All these pressures, combined, make it more difficult for the fish to stay healthy enough to make it back to their natal rivers to spawn, Crabbe said. The report also said that Greenland fishermen are catching fewer salmon, a sign they are not surviving in the wild. Greenland fishermen caught less than half as many salmon last year as in 2015, the report states.
How bad are salmon numbers in the U.S.? The report states: "In the United States, numbers remain critically low. A total of 636 Atlantic salmon were counted in all American rivers last year, equal to only three percent of the spawning fish required to meet conservation limits. Atlantic salmon are protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act and angling is completely closed."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a recovery plan for Gulf of Maine Atlantic salmon that calls for the restoration of habitats, removal of dams on rivers and the use of hatchery programs to rebuild the population. And this is all well and good. But as Mr. Crabbe points out, the success of any programs to restore the Atlantic salmon to its former numbers will require the combined efforts of all the governments involved.