Wild Atlantic salmon conservation: Implementation plan 2019 to 2021

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Minister’s message

As Canada’s Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, I am pleased to present the Implementation Plan 2019 to 2021 for wild Atlantic salmon.

The Plan is an outcome of the hard work and dedication of many individuals and organizations, including Indigenous groups, provincial government representatives, and non-governmental stakeholders.

It represents Canada’s strategy for the conservation and sustainability of wild Atlantic salmon populations over the next two years.

Implementation Plan 2019 to 2021 also fulfils a key requirement of Canada’s Wild Atlantic Salmon Conservation Policy, which was revised in 2017, and requires that a regular planning exercise be undertaken to formulate an on-going program of work for Atlantic salmon.

The Plan ensures that Atlantic salmon remains a top-of-mind priority within Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and offers an on-going process to engage with stakeholders and partners.

Implementation Plan 2019 to 2021 is anchored on three equally important themes: ecosystems integrity, science and research, and human interactions.

It offers 18 specific action items. While some of the items are one-off projects, others, such as understanding and mitigating the impacts of climate change on salmon populations, will require on-going and wide-ranging approaches.

My Department is fully committed to advance Implementation Plan 2019 to 2021 with determination and energy. I am confident that working with our dedicated partners and stakeholders will carry us  a long way in helping stop the declining trends and rebuild wild Atlantic salmon populations.

“In October 2018, the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) released our Strategic Plan with four clear goals: determine what's killing wild salmon at sea, and offer solutions; ensure fisheries are sustainable; reduce the effects of salmon aquaculture; and remove barriers to fish passage and restore healthy streams.

ASF was an active member of the working group that was led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to formulate both the Wild Atlantic Salmon Conservation Policy and the Implementation Plan.

I am pleased that the strategies and initiatives laid out in Implementation Plan 2019 to 2021 are congruent with ASF's own work. The Plan is timely and will complement ASF's mission to conserve and restore wild Atlantic salmon and their ecosystems. 

I look forward to working in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to help execute the 18 initiatives outlined in the Plan.”

-Bill Taylor, Atlantic Salmon Federation

“The Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation was awarded a $30 million grant by the Government of Canada to create a permanent source of funding to help conserve, restore and protect wild Atlantic salmon and their habitat.

This has yielded nearly $7 million for nearly 500 individual salmon projects in eastern Canada, including nearly $1 million to Indigenous organizations. This has helped recover over 52 million square meters of new salmon habitat and 1.4 million square meters in habitat quality improvement. More than $1.5 million has been invested in 52 research grants.

The Foundation was an active member of the working group constituted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to draft Implementation Plan 2019 to 2021. We are pleased with its comprehensive and detailed nature.

We look forward to working in partnership with the federal government, community groups, Indigenous organizations and universities to advance the action items for habitat conservation, climate change, water flows and temperatures, and science and research.”

- Stephen Chase, Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation

“The NunatuKavut Community Council participated in the development of Canada’s Wild Atlantic Salmon Conservation Policy and its follow-up companion, the Implementation Plan 2019 to 2021.

We found the process to be inclusive and are pleased to see the Plan’s recognition of the spiritual and historical value of wild Atlantic salmon to Indigenous peoples.

We are also pleased that the Plan includes detailed action items such as the need to build capacity by recruiting more Indigenous peoples in initiatives like the Guardian program, which are critical in the Labrador region.

The Plan’s wide-ranging approach to address ecosystems integrity, science and research, and the impacts of human interactions are critical to arrest the trend of declining returns.

The NunatuKavut Community Council looks forward to partnering with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to help achieve the Plan’s goals and objectives.”

- George Russell, Jr., NunatuKavut Community Council

Introduction

The Wild Atlantic Salmon Conservation Policy provides a framework for the Government of Canada to meet its objectives for the conservation of wild Atlantic salmon. It stipulates an overall policy goal for wild Atlantic salmon and identifies basic principles to guide resource management decision making. It also outlines a requirement and provides guidance to develop implementation plans.

Implementation Plan 2019 to 2021 fulfils the policy requirement and functions as a public reporting framework. It builds on past activities, incorporates science-based information and outlines actions to address the threats to wild Atlantic salmon stocks. In so doing, it sets the course for a comprehensive program of work for the next two years.

The goal: Restore and maintain

The goal of the Implementation Plan ultimately is to restore and maintain healthy wild Atlantic salmon populations. As stated in the national policy, this will be achieved by rebuilding and protecting the biological foundations of wild Atlantic salmon while taking into consideration the social, cultural, ecological and economic benefits of wild salmon for now and for the future generations of Canadians.

Implementation Plan 2019 to 2021 only addresses the wild anadromous (sea-run) form of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.), found in the rivers of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Quebec. Atlantic salmon are considered “wild” if they have spent their entire life cycle in the wild and originate from parents who were also produced by natural spawning and continuously lived in the wild.

Context: An iconic species

Wild Atlantic salmon is an important icon for the people of Atlantic Canada and Quebec. It is fished for food, social, and ceremonial purposes by more than forty First Nations and many Indigenous communities. In central and coastal Labrador salmon is relied on for local food fisheries.

Salmon angling is also a valued recreational activity by both local residents and non-residents. The species is considered by many as an indicator of environmental quality and an animal of respect.

Atlantic salmon has generated a rich cultural heritage of spiritual and emotional connections among peoples for the fish, and for the environment at large. It is these connections that provide a strong driving force for conservation of the species.

Background: History of the stocks

Wild Atlantic salmon populations have been declining. Between 1971 and 1985, the estimates of North American salmon varied between 0.8 to 1.7 million fish annually. Since 1995 onwards, the abundance has declined to 0.4 - 0.7 million fish.

The largest decline has occurred in adult salmon returning to Canadian rivers. The most severe declines have occurred in the 32 rivers of the inner Bay of Fundy where Atlantic salmon are listed as endangered under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

In response to the declining stocks, important changes in fisheries management were introduced starting in 1984, including closure of the commercial Atlantic salmon fisheries of the Maritime provinces and portions of Quebec, which culminated in a full moratorium on all commercial salmon fisheries in eastern Canada by 2000.  

Since then, more restrictive measures have been applied to compensate for the declining rates of return, including reduced retention bag limits, expansion of mandatory catch and release. Several Indigenous community fisheries have also been reduced and, in some cases, voluntarily suspended.

Methodology: Purposeful action

Implementation Plan 2019 to 2021 is built on the recognition that action is required to arrest the declines and rebuild wild Atlantic salmon populations while maintaining their genetic diversity. Guided by these goals, it sets the stage for all levels of government, Indigenous communities and other stakeholders to work together and contribute through shared stewardship.

The development process for Implementation Plan 2019 to 2021 was facilitated by Fisheries and Oceans Canada by forming a working group of the Atlantic Salmon Advisory Committee, which included representatives of provincial governments, Indigenous groups, watershed associations, and various non-governmental organizations.

The working group met over several months. It reviewed the Forward Plan for Atlantic Salmon, a 2016 document which advanced the 61 recommendations contained within the Special Report on Wild Atlantic Salmon in Eastern Canada submitted by the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Atlantic Salmon in July 2015.

The working group also considered the 17 recommendations of the report by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans on Wild Atlantic Salmon in Eastern Canada, issued in January 2017. These past efforts were used as models and several of them were considered still relevant to be included in the Implementation Plan.

Principles and objectives

Implementation Plan 2019 to 2021 is guided by four core principles outlined in the national policy on wild Atlantic salmon. These principles govern decision-making and facilitate the execution of an adaptive approach to salmon management and conservation. The principles do not override existing legislation or regulations, rather they define how these statutory authorities should be implemented.

Principle 1: Conservation

The conservation of wild Atlantic salmon populations, their genetic diversity, and their habitats must be given the highest priority in management decisions.

As such, the greatest threats to the future of wild Atlantic salmon populations should receive the greatest amount of attention and resources to ensure that the conservation objectives are met.

Principle 2: Sustainable use and benefits

Management decisions must respect the rights of Indigenous peoples, reflect best available science, and consider local and Indigenous traditional knowledge as well as the biological, social and economic consequences for Canadians. Sustainable use and benefits means that Atlantic salmon is treated in a way that does not lead to its long-term decline, thereby ensuring that the needs and aspirations of future generations can be met.

Principle 3: Precautionary approach and transparent decision making

Management decisions must apply the precautionary approach and must be made in an open, inclusive, and transparent manner. This means that a lower risk tolerance will be chosen in management decisions when stock status information is more uncertain. To garner trust and public support, decisions will seek to accommodate a wide range of public interests, and will be based on meaningful input with consistent rules and procedures.

Principle 4: Shared stewardship

Conservation initiatives will be optimized with the active engagement of provincial governments, First Nations, other Indigenous organizations, volunteers and other stakeholders in the development and implementation of management decisions. The promotion of and compliance with management measures is most effective when the users of the resource are directly involved in the development and implementation of the measures, including monitoring for compliance.

Program of work: Action items

Implementation Plan 2019 to 2021 contains a total of 18 action items which form a multi-pronged program of work for the conservation and sustainability of wild Atlantic salmon stocks. The action items mirror the style, and in some cases repeat the content, of the initiatives listed in the Forward Plan and the report of the Standing Committee. As such, they create a explicit link to these past efforts.

The 18 action items are categorized under three themes. Ecosystems integrity reflects the inter-connectedness between habitat, biodiversity, and ecosystems. Science and research details the work required to prioritize emerging issues of scientific interest, such as the impacts of climate change and at-sea-mortality. The theme of human interactions commits partners and stakeholders to work together as stewards of this iconic species.

The tables below set out each action item, the tasks required to execute it, and a target completion date. Implementation Plan 2019 to 2021 is not a traditional discrete project plan, rather it is a ongoing program of work. Completion dates targeting 2021 therefore could, in some cases, possibly continue into the longer term.

Implementation plan 2019 to 2021

Ecosystem integrity
Description of action item Status/tasks/milestones Target
completion
1. Identify additional investments in water quality protection, flow management, and fish passage protection and work with partners to identify priority areas for existing habitat programs.

Regional habitat priorities will be assessed and programs reviewed  for inclusion of wild salmon.

2020

2. Implement and track the progress, annually and on an ongoing basis, the eight recommendations identified in the Spring 2018 Report on Salmon Farming by the Federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. The report is being implemented; progress updates will be provided  via Parliamentary reporting. 2021
3. Report on Canada’s actions that align with the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) goals to minimize the adverse impacts of aquaculture, introductions and transfers, and transgenics on the wild stocks. Canada will submit its new NASCO five-year plan and provide regular progress reports. 2019
4. Develop a federal policy on stocking to provide guidance on when fish stocking would be appropriate in consideration of genetic risks to wild salmon populations as well as options to improve collapsed or declining stocks. Significant background analysis will be required, followed by stakeholder consultations. 2021
5. Review control and eradication programs in the context of the Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations and provide options to address the threats by non-native species to wild Atlantic salmon, such as the non-native smallmouth bass in the Miramichi River. Containment measures will be regularly assessed in the context of scientific evidence. 2020
6. In order to protect, restore and improve the natural ecosystems, incorporate science and Indigenous knowledge to review and implement updated management plans for the threats, including predators faced by wild Atlantic salmon. Engagement initiatives, including workshops, will be developed for Indigenous knowledge. 2021
Science and research
Description of action item Status/tasks/milestones Target
completion
1. Develop and fully implement the Precautionary Approach and use it as a guide for harvest-level decisions, for rebuilding plans and as the benchmark for any directed retention for the wild Atlantic salmon fisheries. Priority areas will be selected to develop reference points and to advance the PA framework. 2021
2. Increase the number of salmon population monitoring locations in Atlantic Canada and explore new monitoring technologies to better support salmon stock assessments and the implementation of the Precautionary Approach. Partners will be engaged to study the feasibility of new technologies in locations difficult to access. 2021
3. Focus the Atlantic Salmon Research Joint Venture’s priorities on the most pressing research questions such as: ocean tracking; locations and causes of at-sea-mortality; impact of climate change on fitness and survival; and predation and competition. Partners will be engaged to review the priorities and to focus on the most pressing issues. 2019
4. Work with Indigenous groups, provincial governments, anglers, non-governmental organizations and others to ensure strong local stewardship capacity is fostered to achieve the goals of the Wild Atlantic Salmon Conservation Policy. Joint-seminars, partnerships, funding programs etc. will be used for capacity building. 2020
5. Monitor water temperatures and their link to climate change impacts on Atlantic salmon by strategically expanding the protocols, the network of water monitoring stations, and the accessibility of current and historic data such as that compiled through RivTemp. Regional protocols will be developed for water temperature monitoring and analysis. 2021
6. Implement, track, and report on existing and future Species at Risk recovery plans and set recovery objectives and specific measures needed to ensure the survival and recovery of the listed wild Atlantic salmon populations. As per statutory requirements recovery plans and progress will be undertaken for listed species. 2021
Human interactions
Description of action item Status/tasks/milestones Target completion
1. Regularly evaluate the capacity for wild Atlantic salmon enforcement and, if necessary, increase it, including increased investments in initiatives such as the Guardian program, with an emphasis on recruitment of Indigenous peoples. Regional workshops will review capacity; Indigenous recruitment will be targeted as a priority. 2019
2. Use international fora such as NASCO and other venues to urge countries like France (St. Pierre and Miquelon) and Greenland to eliminate their commercial salmon fisheries and reduce overall catch to levels that are consistent with conservation of stocks. Current efforts with France and Greenland will continue both bilaterally and via NASCO. 2021
3. Work with all pertinent stakeholders to develop alternative options to increase assessments and pilot projects for community involvement in salmon conservation, such as the river-by-river management model used in Quebec. Implicated stakeholders will be engaged and consulted to develop options for a potential pilot. 2020
4. Engage with Indigenous groups and academic institutions to develop a comprehensive understanding of Indigenous knowledge systems, and develop mechanisms to use that knowledge to inform management decisions regarding salmon. A statement-of-work for a study will be developed and Indigenous groups will be engaged. 2019
5. Examine techniques to reduce potential mortalities where directed catch-and-release fishing is permitted, and where unintended interception of wild Atlantic salmon could occur in permitted fisheries for other species, including in the recreational and Food, Social and Ceremonial fisheries. Partners will be engaged to review scientific literature on techniques and alternatives. 2021
6. Regarding interactions between wild salmon and striped bass, use approaches consistent with peer reviewed science, and when striped bass stocks are in the healthy zone, to explore options to pilot Indigenous striped bass commercial fisheries. Results of the 2018 Indigenous pilot commercial fishery for striped bass will be assessed. 2020

Division of responsibilities

The federal Fisheries Act gives the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans the authority to manage and protect wild Atlantic salmon. However, provincial governments also have powers with respect to the fishing of salmon in inland waters to issue licences for recreational angling for salmon and other species, and to collect fees for these licences.

The Quebec government has additional delegated powers for fisheries administration that apply to freshwater fish, as well as anadromous species like wild Atlantic salmon in the waters of Quebec and in tidal waters.

The stewardship of wild Atlantic salmon is also shaped by court decisions respecting Indigenous and Treaty rights, which are affirmed in the Constitution Act, 1982, committing the Government of Canada to manage fisheries such that Indigenous fisheries for food, social and ceremonial purposes have priority over other fisheries.

Conclusion

Implementation Plan 2019 to 2021 is aptly titled as a reminder that the process to revise and update it should begin in 2021. This is important because it provides a mechanism to re-engage stakeholders and incorporate new information and data, thus keeping the program of work for wild Atlantic salmon a priority.

It is expected that Fisheries and Oceans Canada will provide an update on the 18 action items listed in the Implementation Plan, potentially at its mid-way point, in late 2020.

In developing Implementation Plan 2019 to 2021, the working group members envisioned a future where healthy and diverse salmon populations and their habitats are restored and maintained, and where cross-jurisdictional and collaborative federal, provincial, local and Indigenous partnerships become the essential ingredients to an integrated approach. They felt that, as paraphrased in the Mi’kmaq saying, the existence of the human race itself is linked to the survival of wild Atlantic salmon.