Status report on the Wild Atlantic Salmon Conservation Implementation Plan 2019-21
On this page
- 1. Introduction and background
- 2. Status report on program of work
- 3. Conclusions and next steps
1. Introduction and background
Wild Atlantic salmon is an iconic species for the people of Atlantic Canada and Quebec, and an indicator of ecosystem health. Strong cultural and socio-economic ties to the species remain for many people who live and work in the region, despite closure of the commercial fishery. It is an important species for Indigenous peoples, and continues to be fished for food, social, and ceremonial purposes by more than forty First Nations and many Inuit communities. Salmon angling is also a valued recreational activity for both local residents and non-residents. It is these strong connections to salmon that inspire organizations and individuals to contribute to the conservation of the species.
Declining trends in wild Atlantic salmon abundance began in the early 1970s, including severe declines occurring in the southern range of Atlantic salmon, where many populations are now designated as Endangered or Threatened. In response to the declining populations across their range, incremental changes in fisheries management were introduced starting in 1984, ultimately culminating in a full moratorium on all commercial salmon fisheries throughout eastern Canada by 2000. Since then, more restrictive measures have been applied to compensate for the declining rates of return, including recreational fishery closures, reduced retention bag limits, and expansion of mandatory catch and release. Several Indigenous food, social, and ceremonial fisheries have also been reduced and, in some cases, voluntarily suspended.
1.1 Tools for Atlantic salmon conservation and protection
The revitalization of The Wild Atlantic Salmon Conservation Policy in 2018 provided a framework for the Government of Canada to meet its objectives for the conservation of wild Atlantic salmon. The goal of the Policy is to restore and maintain healthy wild Atlantic salmon populations, through rebuilding and protecting the biological foundations of wild Atlantic salmon, while taking into consideration the social, cultural, and economic benefits of the species for current and future generations. The Policy identifies four key principles to govern decision-making on salmon management and conservation: conservation, sustainable use and benefits, precautionary approach and transparent decision making, and shared stewardship.
The Wild Atlantic Salmon Conservation Implementation Plan 2019-2021 (the Implementation Plan) was developed to advance the requirements of the Wild Atlantic Salmon Conservation Policy and serve as a short-term framework to report on progress toward the Policy goal. Recognizing that the recovery of wild Atlantic salmon is a long-term undertaking, the Implementation Plan laid out a comprehensive program of work to be undertaken by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), in collaboration with Indigenous governments and communities, provincial governments and stakeholders for an initial two year period.
The Implementation Plan contains a total of 18 action items which form a multi-pronged program of work for the conservation and restoration of wild Atlantic salmon populations. 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
- Human interactions: commits partners and stakeholders to work together as stewards of this iconic species
Activities identified under each theme include discrete projects as well as actions that relate to ongoing, broader initiatives that collectively support the restoration and maintenance of healthy wild Atlantic salmon populations. While the Implementation Plan set the course for an initial two-year time frame, the nature of this work is iterative and ongoing.
1.2 – Roles and responsibilities
The management and protection of wild Atlantic salmon is shared across multiple jurisdictions and levels of government, hence the importance of pursuing the goal of restoring and maintaining healthy wild Atlantic salmon populations collaboratively. The federal Fisheries Act, Oceans Act and Species at Risk Act provide the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans the authority and tools to manage wild Atlantic salmon. 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.
Provincial governments also have powers with respect to the management of threats and impacts to inland waters, which includes the issuance of licences for recreational angling for salmon and other species and to collect fees for these licences. The Quebec government has been delegated powers with respect to fisheries management administration for freshwater fish, as well as diadromous species like wild Atlantic salmon, in the inland and tidal waters of Quebec.
As a highly migratory species with an extensive geographic range throughout the North Atlantic basin, Atlantic salmon are also managed cooperatively through the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO).
2. Status report on program of work
This report provides an assessment of progress made by DFO in fulfillment of the actions identified in the Implementation Plan, some of which were identified as long-term and ongoing at the outset. While significant progress was achieved for some actions, it was limited for others, with variation across regions. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, some action items relating to engagement and science activities could not be completed within the targeted timelines. The following sections provide further discussion of gains, limitations, and opportunities. Finally, the conclusion of this status report offers several ‘lessons learned’ to support the development of future phases of work to support of the conservation and restoration of healthy wild Atlantic salmon populations.
2.1 – Measuring progress
The following sections summarize the progress DFO has made on the Implementation Plan as of December, 2021. Each of the 18 action items was qualitatively assessed as meeting one of the following three statuses:
- Minimal Progress: few activities were undertaken on the action item and/or the geographic coverage of activities was not sufficient to deliver the intended outcome;
- Moderate Progress: multiple activities were undertaken across multiple regions on the action item and have the potential to contribute to the intended outcome in future implementation cycles; or,
- Substantial Progress: numerous activities with sufficient geographic coverage (where relevant) were undertaken on an action item and demonstrated tangible results towards the intended outcome during this implementation cycle.
Additionally, a summary of key achievements and challenges is provided by theme. Notably, there are multiple action items under each theme with similar goals (i.e., increasing local leadership in salmon conservation projects) and delivery mechanisms (i.e., workshops, funding programs). In these instances, action items have been addressed individually through the lens of the theme to which they belong. Many partners have contributed to the efforts to achieve the objectives of the Implementation Plan. Although DFO acknowledges the contribution of all partners, some actions may not be reflected in this report.
2.2 – Theme 1: Ecosystem integrity
Inter-connectedness between habitat, biodiversity, and ecosystems
Summary of progress made towards the six action items identified under the Ecosystem Integrity theme of the Wild Atlantic Salmon Conservation Implementation Plan 2019-21.
- Action Item #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.
Status: Substantial Progress
- Action Item #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.
Status: Substantial Progress
- Action Item #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.
Status: Moderate Progress
- Action Item #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.
Status: Minimal Progress
- Action Item #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.
Status: Moderate Progress
- Action Item #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.
Status: Minimal Progress
Investing in wild Atlantic salmon habitat protection
There was substantial progress throughout 2019-21 to secure additional investments to protect aquatic ecosystem integrity through national-level programs and funding. While these investments have enabled DFO and partners to advance existing and new aquatic ecosystem planning initiatives, work remains ongoing to collaboratively identify priorities and allocate resources accordingly.
Most notably, the modernized Fisheries Act, which came into force in 2019, included a five-year investment of $284.2 million through, i) the Fish and Fish Habitat Protection Program, ii) Science, and iii) Conservation and Protection. Portions of the increased funding in these areas has supported activities to improve ecosystem integrity for Atlantic salmon, such as:
- conducting research projects related to freshwater habitat connectivity, fish passage restoration and water flow to inform ecosystem management options;
- working with the Canadian Wildlife Foundation to develop a National Canadian Barriers Database to identify priority areas for regional barrier remediation;
- sustaining regional conservation and protection activities to verify compliance with, and enforce the habitat provisions of, the Fisheries Act on a day-to-day basis, including habitat patrols and investigations, outreach and education; and,
- overseeing proponent-led fish passage and mortality assessments to ensure compliance with the fish and fish habitat protection provisions of the Fisheries Act and relevant provisions of the Species at Risk Act.
The modernized Fisheries Act also established new legislative requirements to ensure the consideration of Indigenous rights in Ministerial decision-making and to provide for the consideration of Indigenous knowledge in fish and fish habitat decision-making. In addition, to increase Indigenous involvement in the conservation and protection of fish and fish habitat, starting in 2019, DFO has made up to $50 million available over five years through its Indigenous Habitat Participation Program (IHPP). To date, this program has funded Indigenous recipients across the country, including in the Gulf, Maritimes, and Newfoundland and Labrador regions to support engagement, data collection and co-management projects on wild Atlantic salmon protection measures.
The Nature Legacy Initiative, launched in Budget 2018 and enhanced in Budget 2021, has also contributed towards the protection of wild Atlantic salmon. Through the Canada Nature Fund for Aquatic Species at Risk (CNFASAR) and other Nature Legacy initiatives provided by Budget 2018, DFO invested in wild Atlantic salmon monitoring, research, conservation, stewardship, and protection. In its initial 2018-2023 funding cycle, CNFASAR contributed over $10 million towards multi-species stewardship initiatives that also benefited Atlantic salmon including:
- habitat restoration activities in the Restigouche river watershed and estuary;
- efforts to address migration barriers and improve rearing and spawning habitat in Prince Edward Island; and,
- establishing an integrated approach to restore high-value aquatic ecosystems in key Atlantic salmon rivers in Nova Scotia.
During the period 2019 to 2021, other grants and contributions funding programs, notably the Habitat Stewardship Program also contributed approximately $700,000 in funding for eight stewardship projects in Atlantic salmon habitat improvement, including projects conducted on the Black River, in Mabou Harbour, and on PEI.
Addressing threats through policy and management plans
DFO made moderate progress throughout 2019-2021 to implement science-based policies and management plans that directly protect the health of wild Atlantic salmon.
Many of the policy-related action items identified in the Implementation Plan are still in the early research and engagement stages of policy development. For example, DFO:
- provided thorough annual reports to NASCO on how Canada is implementing NASCO Resolutions, Agreements and Guidelines through its national implementation plan 2019-2024;
- continued to work with provincial and territorial partners through the recently established Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) National Core Program to develop the necessary policy tools to integrate AIS regulations into the aquatic ecosystem regulatory environment; and,
- commenced work with Indigenous governments and communities to support community led monitoring of AIS in Labrador and Nova Scotia.
The Department has also made progress in developing concrete tools to help manage threats to wild salmon and their habitats. Key achievements include:
- developing and delivering an internal management action plan in response to the eight recommendations made in the spring of 2018 Report on Salmon Farming by the Federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. Notable outcomes of this work include establishing a committee with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) on emerging aquatic animal diseases to identify and evaluate emerging infectious diseases of wild and cultured aquatic animals, and enable coordinated federal response to emerging disease threats;
- developing interim codes of practice under new authorities in the Fisheries Act to avoid harmful impacts to fish and fish habitat from specific types of work, such as culvert maintenance, dredging, beaver dam removal and other routine activities; and,
- completing a successful Smallmouth bass eradication event on Piper Lake within the St. Mary’s watershed in Nova Scotia.
Overall, the incremental developments listed above reflect the complex threats that wild Atlantic salmon ecosystems face, and the multi-jurisdictional regulatory environments for fisheries and aquaculture policy in Canada. These initiatives are milestones towards developing national-level management tools for Atlantic salmon that meet the unique needs of specific regions.
Regional or watershed-specific management plans are another critical tool to support rebuilding efforts for wild Atlantic salmon populations. The development of such plans also present opportunities to strengthen collaboration between DFO, Indigenous communities and other partners. Advancements in this area during the implementation period include:
- work with the Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Salmon Technical Working Group to ensure that science advice and traditional knowledge provided by Mi’kmaq Chiefs was incorporated into the recreational and Food, Social and Ceremonial Salmon Plamu Management Plan on the North, Middle and Baddeck Rivers;
- DFO funding received for the ongoing management of its marine refuges. One of these marine refuges, the Miramichi Bay closure, is in place to protect a migratory corridor used by Atlantic salmon and other diadromous species (i.e., Striped bass and American shad) as they transit to their spawning grounds in the Miramichi River; and,
- ongoing work by the Miawpukek First Nation on its Plamu Monitoring project, which will inform the development of enhancement and conservation measures for Atlantic salmon on the Conne River in Newfoundland.
While these initiatives represent important progress in collaborative salmon management, the overall coverage of management plans, and more specifically those that incorporate Indigenous knowledge, in the Atlantic provinces remains limited. Developing and delivering management plans collaboratively is deliberate, measured work that requires sustained resources to maintain engagement and shared work programs. As such, results in this area will continue to be realized over the course of successive implementation phases.
2.3 – Theme 2: Science and research
Work required to prioritize the emerging issues of scientific interest, such as impacts of climate change and at-sea-mortality
Summary of progress made towards the six action items identified under the Science and Research theme of the Wild Atlantic Salmon Conservation Implementation Plan 2019-21.
- Action Item #7
- 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.
Status: Moderate progress
- Action Item #8
- 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.
Status: Minimal progress
- Action Item #9
- 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.
Status: Moderate progress
- Action Item #10
- 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.
Status: Moderate progress
- Action Item #11
- 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.
Status: Minimal progress
- Action Item #12
- 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.
Status: Moderate progress
Increasing our understanding of wild Atlantic salmon populations and habitats
Throughout 2019-2021, DFO advanced key wild Atlantic salmon research efforts, and made moderate progress to ensure salmon management practices reflect the best-available science.
Defining reference points for salmon stocks in the Atlantic provinces and Quebec was a priority throughout the Implementation Plan period. Limit reference points (LRP) were defined for many salmon fishing areas in all jurisdictions. Upper stock reference points (USRP) were defined in Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador regions, and continue to be developed on a priority basis in the remaining regions. These reference points help fisheries managers identify stock status zones (i.e., healthy, cautious and critical) that reflect the specific ecosystem and life history characteristics of a given population. Across the species range, a number of retention fisheries (e.g., food, social, and ceremonial licences to Indigenous groups and the retention of salmon bycatch in the Labrador resident subsistence fishery), and recreational catch-and-release fisheries are permitted on stocks below their LRP due to the cultural and socio-economic importance of these fisheries. Wherever there is permitted fishing, a variety of management tools are used to reduce exploitation and catch-and-release mortality, including:
- annual allocations,
- gear, area and season restrictions,
- best practices for catch and release,
- catch size requirements,
- warm and low water closures.
Despite the progress in developing reference point for Atlantic salmon populations, the development and application of the Precautionary Approach (PA) in harvest management rules remains incomplete across the species range. Applying the PA to wild Atlantic salmon management is particularly important because this species continues to face numerous threats that are poorly understood. Key threats include, but are not limited to: habitat degradation, legal and illegal fisheries domestically and abroad, aquaculture and fisheries interactions, commercial and industrial development in freshwater and coastal environments, climate change and environmental shifts in marine and freshwater ecosystems, and the impacts of low population abundance on breeding and fitness. During the Implementation Plan period, DFO and partners initiated research efforts to address knowledge gaps in relation to these threats. For example:
- in 2021, DFO received $11.8 million through Natural Resources Canada’s Environmental Studies Research Fund to study the dynamics of Atlantic salmon in an offshore region of Newfoundland. By fitting more than 1300 Atlantic salmon at three different life stages with telemetry tags, this research will provide much-needed insight into marine migration routes, timing and duration at-sea, and the effects of environmental variability on salmon fitness; and,
- a five-year project, supported by the Atlantic Salmon Research Joint Venture (ASRJV), is underway to examine the factors that impact fitness of outgoing smolts, and how this fitness can affect marine survival.
Both of these research projects are centered on partnerships and aim to take a more holistic approach to understanding wild Atlantic salmon declines.
In freshwater environments, research efforts focused on exploring new technologies to monitor salmon distribution and abundance, and increasing key environmental data, such as water temperature. Progress in these areas include:
- ongoing research projects across Atlantic Canada to assess the effectiveness of environmental DNA (eDNA) technologies to detect and estimate salmon population patterns, as well as the presence of predators and invasive species in salmon habitat. DFO’s peer-reviewed science guidance on eDNA analysis is an important tool to guide this work;
- a new research partnership with academia to assess the suitability of sonar technology for monitoring salmon on the Kedgwick River in New Brunswick;
- an ASRJV initiative that deployed 70 temperature loggers on priority rivers where salmon data exists to improve monitoring and forecasting; and,
- efforts in Newfoundland and Labrador to formalize water temperature monitoring as part of environmental protocol to improve data quality, support conservation and protection enforcement, and actively manage river use. Science advice on a water protocol has also been developed in the Gulf region and is being applied on four salmon rivers (Restigouche, Nepisiguit, Miramichi and Margaree) where summer Atlantic salmon recreational fisheries occur.
These marine and freshwater scientific initiatives are important because, in the mid- to long-term, they can support decision-making that addresses the source of threats to healthy Atlantic salmon, including refining harvest control measures for recreational and food, social, and ceremonial fisheries and improving the application of the PA for wild Atlantic salmon. However, current research and monitoring efforts do not provide sufficient coverage across the range of Atlantic salmon. While priority areas, such as the Miramichi watershed and the SARA-listed Inner Bay of Fundy populations, have seen sustained research programming in recent years, there is an ongoing need to undertake research programming for other salmon populations across the regions. Given the geographic scale and complexity of Atlantic salmon habitat, partnerships have been, and will continue to be, essential to this work.
Strengthening monitoring and stewardship capacity through partnerships
During 2019-2021, DFO made moderate progress in supporting local stewardship of wild Atlantic salmon through grants and contributions funding and direct partnership development.
The Fish and Fish Habitat Protection Program (FFHPP) delivered funding to partners for projects related to Atlantic salmon restoration through three key external funding programs: the Indigenous Habitat Participation Program (IHPP), , Recreational Fisheries Conservation Partnership Program (RFCPP; completed in 2019), and Coastal Restoration Fund (CRF). Species at risk funding programs, including the Aboriginal Fund for Species at Risk (ASFAR), Canada Nature Fund for Aquatic Species at Risk (CNFASAR) and the Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP), also played a significant role in supporting partner-led recovery initiatives for Atlantic salmon. The examples below highlight the breadth of engagement, research and remediation activities that occurred during the Implementation Plan period:
- the World Wildlife Fund hosted an Atlantic salmon habitat workshop in Newfoundland and Labrador to identify best management practices and enable prioritization of future remediation work;
- DFO issued contracts to 15 Indigenous groups and ENGOs in Newfoundland & Labrador Region between 2019-2021 to conduct aquatic connectivity assessments on watercourse crossings and physical barriers – to date over 1,700 sites have been surveyed, and the focus moving forward will be restoring connectivity for Atlantic salmon;
- the Unama’ki Institute ofNatural Resources coordinated the participation of First Nation communities in eastern Nova Scotia to strengthen their involvement in adult salmon assessments using a rotary screw trap to estimate smolt population, monitor invasive species and gather biological data on parr and smolt in the Middle River;
- DFO continued collaborative work in Gulf Region with New Brunswick Power through a longstanding protocol agreement to address a prioritized list of challenges inclusive of all hydroelectric facilities and their operations aimed at mitigating and managing impacts on fish and fish habitat (i.e., upstream and downstream fish passage, flows, mortality and water levels);
- the Mi’kmaq Alsumk Mowimsikk Koqoey Association (MAMKA) in Newfoundland and Labrador stabilized eroding shorelines in estuarine waters in Conne River, a known migration route for salmon; and,
- PEI Watershed Alliance Inc. provided habitat improvement to 202 sites and also removed 55 stream blockages, both improving and maintaining Atlantic salmon habitat across PEI.
Emerging examples of how DFO can make a long-term impact in this area include joint fieldwork and monitoring exercises with local and Indigenous communities, multi-party Statements of Cooperation that outline river-specific management approaches, and genetic mixed-stock fishery analyses as part of Canada’s commitments to NASCO. However, these activities are made more challenging with limited capacity to train partners and sustain engagement long-term.
While DFO programs and other funding sources have enabled Atlantic salmon assessments and restoration activities to take place and address local needs, there are currently no departmental sources of funding dedicated to deliver on the goals of the Wild Atlantic Salmon Conservation Policy or its associated Implementation Plans.
Supporting the recovery of species at risk
During the Implementation Plan period, DFO produced four key documents relating to the Inner Bay of Fundy (iBoF) salmon population listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA):
- the Action Plan for the Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar), inner Bay of Fundy population in Canada outlines detailed planning in-line with the recovery strategy;
- the Critical Habitat Order to protect the identified iBoF Atlantic salmon critical habitat;
- the Residence Statement to facilitate the protection of iBoF Atlantic salmon residence or dwelling-places (i.e., spawning redds); and,
- the Report on the Progress of Recovery Strategy Implementation for the Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar), inner Bay of Fundy Population in Canada for the Period 2010 – 2015.
These documents guide DFO and partner conservation and recovery projects related to the iBoF salmon population. Although there were delays in publishing these iBoF-related documents, progress has continued by DFO and partners to implement actions in support of the population’s conservation, protection and recovery as guided by the recovery strategy. Priority initiatives throughout 2019-2021 included the ongoing operations of DFO’s Live Gene Bank program, smolt survival and migration research, population monitoring, disease transfer studies, and ongoing population recovery actions through the collaborative Fundy Salmon Recovery project.
Atlantic salmon recovery is a long-term objective; ongoing efforts in research, stewardship activities and partnership development are contributing to the objective but it will take time to achieve the recovery goal for Atlantic salmon generally, and specifically for iBoF Atlantic salmon. Existing river populations remain at low abundances and are dependent on the Live Gene Bank program for their continued survival. The work led by DFO and Parks Canada Agency to-date has nonetheless built a strong foundation for continued research, recovery efforts and successful management of this species going forward.
2.4 – Theme 3: Human interactions
Committing partners and stakeholders to work together as stewards of Atlantic salmon.
Summary of progress made towards the six action items identified under the Human Interactions theme of the Wild Atlantic Salmon Conservation Implementation Plan 2019-21.
- Action Item #13
- 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.
Status: Minimal progress
- Action Item #14
- 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.
Status: Moderate progress
- Action Item #15
- 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.
Status: Minimal progress
- Action Item #16
- 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.
Status: Minimal progress
- Action Item #17
- 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.
Status: Moderate progress
- Action Item #18
- 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.
Status: Substantial progress
Aligning fisheries and enforcement activities with salmon conservation needs
Throughout 2019-2021, DFO’s Conservation and Protection program maintained existing levels of enforcement activity to protect wild Atlantic salmon populations. In both 2019 and 2020, DFO averaged over 50,000 hours of fisheries enforcement activities on Atlantic salmon fisheries. These enforcement activities deter illegal fishing activity and support efforts to prosecute offences. By reporting annual trends in violations, DFO is able to assess the effectiveness of these enforcement actions on an ongoing basis.
Additional efforts to protect wild Atlantic salmon through DFO’s Conservation and Protection and Fisheries Management programs included:
- introducing barbless artificial fly gear restrictions in the Maritimes and Gulf Regions to reduce mortality in catch-and-release angling;
- conducting catch-and-release education campaigns in the Newfoundland and Labrador Region, and partnering with Indigenous governments and communities in Labrador to improve community-led detection and containment of aquatic invasive species; and,
- closing fisheries during warm and low water periods.
Wild Atlantic salmon are a part of dynamic ecosystems, and the changing patterns of predation and competition within and between species must also be considered when developing management options. For example, during the Implementation Plan period, DFO issued permits to the Natoaganeg First Nation's pilot fishery of Striped bass on the Miramichi River in-line with science advice generated through DFO’s Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat. Ongoing research into the population trends and interactions of Atlantic salmon and striped bass in this watershed will inform ecosystem-based management approaches.
Wild Atlantic salmon monitoring and enforcement activities also rely on partnerships and international collaboration. Domestically, there is a renewed focus on partnerships with Indigenous groups, specifically through Indigenous Fishery Guardian Programs, to improve enforcement measures. While some jurisdictions, such as Newfoundland and Labrador, made significant investments in these programs between 2019-2021, overall progress in this area was limited. DFO is currently undertaking a broader Indigenous Program Renewal process, which will include the Guardian program. These partnerships must be prioritized in future efforts to implement the Wild Atlantic Salmon Conservation Policy.
Internationally, Canada continued to be an active participant in wild Atlantic salmon management and conservation. Through bilateral and multilateral engagement, Canada advocated for restricted harvest levels in salmon fisheries located in West Greenland and France (in respect of Saint Pierre and Miquelon) in alignment with NASCO’s conservation goals. Canada also participated in international sampling programs through the West Greenland Commission, and joint monitoring initiatives with France in the Saint Pierre and Miquelon fishery.
Increasing the role of Indigenous knowledge systems and local leadership
As detailed in section 2.3 ‘Science and Research’, DFO made some progress in supporting local stewardship of wild Atlantic salmon through grants and contributions funding and direct partnership development, however geographic coverage remains insufficient. Careful planning and consideration is needed to ensure that existing partner-led initiatives can be sustained and new initiatives undertaken in future implementation periods for the Wild Atlantic Conservation Policy.
In support of an increasing role of Indigenous groups in fish and fish habitat conservation, work has begun to explore appropriate mechanisms to consider Indigenous knowledge in decision-making processes. At the federal level, DFO is partnering with national Indigenous organizations to develop interim guidance for improving how Indigenous knowledge is sought, collected, stored and conveyed to support the new provisions in the Fisheries Act. In the Gulf and Maritimes Regions, the Indigenous Habitat Participation Program is funding two consultation bodies to develop the concept of an Indigenous knowledge system. These initiatives are in the early stages of development.
3. Conclusions and next steps
The conservation of wild Atlantic salmon remains a complex management challenge. It is characterized by significant uncertainty, with multiple variables influencing the health of populations, and fragmented sources of funding for conservation efforts. It requires coordination of multiple government bodies, including Indigenous governments, across different jurisdictions, and various organizations representing industry and communities, which often translates into gradual change.
In spite of the ongoing conservation and recovery efforts detailed in this status report, the goal to restore and maintain healthy wild Atlantic salmon populations remains relevant. While the Implementation Plan 2019-2021 laid out an ambitious program of work, DFO was challenged to address all 18 action items simultaneously during the initial two-year period. As a result, progress on action items within and across themes was uneven and, in a number of areas, falling short of the desired outcome. Implementation priorities and progress also varied between geographical regions and would have benefited from greater governance and oversight throughout the implementation period.
Several important lessons have been identified from the work undertaken over the past two years which will require further consideration and strategizing with partners to help chart a path forward for the next phases of work.
- Threats and activities must be prioritized to strengthen delivery of results over the long-term.
- The Implementation Plan created an ambitious program of work from existing initiatives. However, this approach does not provide the strategic guidance needed to ensure that the numerous science, engagement, enforcement, ecosystem management, aquaculture and fisheries management initiatives related to wild Atlantic salmon are cohesive and coordinated. Longer-term planning and implementation cycles are needed to reflect salmon lifecycles and align timelines appropriately for multijurisdictional policy development and to see changes within populations.
- The strategic allocation of resources will be important to support conservation and protection measures.
- Thus far, a collection of different funding initiatives have supported moderate progress in partner-led activities. Sustained and targeted resources are vital to meet the conservation needs of wild Atlantic salmon and support long-term stewardship efforts. This is also important from an international perspective, to ensure that Canada’s efforts to conserve wild Atlantic salmon align with expectations outlined by NASCO.
- Scale considerations need to be addressed.
- The geographic scale and complexity of salmon habitat continues to present challenges for effective monitoring and enforcement. While priority watersheds, such as the Miramichi watershed and Inner Bay of Fundy rivers, have seen sustained research programming in recent years, it will be important to address complex threats to Atlantic salmon across their geographic range.
- Partnerships must remain essential.
- DFO will continue to be guided by the principles outlined in the Wild Atlantic Salmon Conservation Policy, and work to strengthen the collaborative relationships that have supported work to-date. The human and financial resources required to sustain constructive partnerships must be carefully considered and planned for when undertaking joint initiatives.
- Diverse types of knowledge must be incorporated into planning and decision-making.
- New and innovative ideas will be essential to our shared goal of conservation and recovery. DFO welcomes the continued engagement and dialogue with Indigenous communities, partners and stakeholders to support this important work. The new provisions in the Fisheries Act that support the consideration of Indigenous knowledge in decision-making must be operationalized to better support Indigenous leadership in the conservation and protection of Atlantic salmon populations and habitats.
The restoration and maintenance of healthy wild Atlantic salmon populations remains a priority for the Department. In the most recent Mandate Letter, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard was tasked with working in collaboration with numerous partners ‘to make new investments and develop a conservation strategy to restore and rebuild wild Atlantic salmon populations and their habitats’. Building on these important lessons from the past two years, work is underway to advance future actions in support of the Wild Atlantic Salmon Conservation Policy.
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