Monday, September 1, 2014

A Perfect Storm

This has been one of the worst North American salmon seasons in history.  Facts are facts and can not be sugar coated or embellished or made favorable by desire.  This has been one of the worst.

For the longest time, many hard working enthusiasts and conservationists have bridged the gap to keep the runs alive.  Always hoping that some day the magic bullet would be found that could open the door to dramatically larger sustainable returns.  To think that a natural resource as the Atlantic Salmon was being harmed by certain singular events was too simple an approach.  Today we know that conservation and seeding of rivers was but a small finger in the dike that has greater influence.

The Greenland buy out is one such finger, or even a few fingers worth.  When runs started to increase, during some of the last ten years, the buy out became the reason why.  When we think of the reasons that have be associated with poor salmon years it is always the same.  First Nation Netting, Seals, Clear Cutting, Dams and Pollution.  Certainly these factors have an effect on the numbers of returns.  Yet in general they have very little to do with the number of smolt that go to sea.

A set environment, in this case a certain river, has and exacting number of young that can be supported.  This number changes from year to year based on weather patterns over the course of the young fishes in river life.  But in most years these numbers are constant.  For example a river with a usual return of 5000 fish creates an exacting number of eggs that then hatch and over the next two years creates smolt in numbers that the river supports.  That same river in a poor year might only have 3000 fish return and the number of smolt ready for ocean travel will be exactly in the same relative numbers as the good year.  Biologists call this the escapement level as it pertains to returns.


Producing numbers of eggs greater than the number of smolt going to sea is an every year cycle event.  There are many natural predation and environmental factors for this yet it happens.  Why then would it matter?

During times gone by there were bad years.  Not just over the past fifty years but bad years that occurred before Greenland buy outs, before netting, before seals were so prevalent and way before the dams and pollution were in effect. Rivers all over Canada that have never had these factors and still experienced light returns.  Naturally bad years.


This year the low returns are not river specific.  The numbers reflect the entire North American profile and that can only place the cause in one place.  The winter feeding grounds.  If you have followed my writing over the last number of years you know that The North Atlantic Oscillation has had a prominent place in my thinking.  I have now had more than a few years experience watching the winter charts and predicting the following spring and summer returns.  The situation shifted this year and what we have experienced is the lowest returns of adults in recent history.  


Returns of Grilse in the two pound range and thin fish that are larger have been seen.  What can be concluded is that the food supply was disrupted and made scarce.  The NAO chart for the winter of 2013-2014 explains this in simplistic detail.  The oscillation was in a positive position for the entire period.  In a typical year there will be fluctuation.  Some storms travel east below the feeding grounds and some directly through.  But this past year it was almost a continual battering in the North Atlantic.  Salmon winter in an average of fourteen feet from the surface.  When seas are high and rolling the bait is scattered and the salmon go hungry. Naturally there is die off and experience lighter weights.


With all the factors of man in full effect this became the year when all parties wanted their share.  The Greenland buy out is no more.  Many fish were harvested.  First Nation rightfully took theirs.  Fish farms in estuaries produced sea lice, and The North Atlantic Oscillation could not have been of much greater detrimental effect.  All the other ocean issues of seals and pollution have not stopped.

Sad to say that we, as anglers, then continued to harvest and live release.  Harmful to the totals and all contributing factors.  The Perfect Storm was in full effect this year and we can see what happens when all the factors of man and nature take hold.  


As I said in the start of this posting, the number of smolt that will go to sea from this years November spawn should be the same as last years and the same as if the river were chocked full of adults.  A river can only support so many and nature has that survival covered.  What we as anglers and conservationists can continue to effect is of the greatest importance.  We, with our efforts and money have sustained the survival and in some cases replenishment to many rivers.  Yes, some are lost forever as the gene pool is gone.  But what happens this winter is still unknown.  Perhaps the powers that be will come up with a solution to the netting.  And an even greater possibility will be that the NAO will be negative all winter long and Salmo Salar can be fed without working too hard.    

This has been one of the worst salmon seasons in history.  Yet if nature has it's way the North Atlantic Oscillation will move winter storms south and intelligent heads will prevail and the buy out will be re-established and a dramatic change could happen.  I am still hopeful.

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