FREDERICTON, Oct 26, 2017 /CNW/ - In May 2015, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) approved the collection of wild Atlantic salmon smolt as part of the CAST (Collaborative Atlantic Salmon for Tomorrow) research initiative. This "head start" research program at the Miramichi Salmon Association (MSA) hatchery was an experiment to learn if holding small salmon until they mature as adults and then releasing them to spawn in their native rivers, could help to recover dwindling populations. Science tells us that 97% of tiny young smolt do not survive the trip from the river to the ocean and back. CAST believed the head start program should be tested in the Miramichi because this approach is already making a positive difference in several rivers including the Upper Salmon River in Fundy National Park and the Tobique River of the Saint John River system.
CAST is a unique New Brunswick organization that includes scientists, conservation groups, government and industry volunteers. The common ground we share is our commitment to save and strengthen wild Atlantic salmon populations. There are four major research studies underway, each arising from the critical issues for wild Atlantic Salmon determined by science and local experts, each designed to answer the questions managers are asking today, including what techniques can we use to sustain a population in serious decline. Funding for CAST research comes from federal, provincial and industry partners.
CAST values the knowledge and contribution of all local experts, especially the First Nations. More than a dozen of meetings including First Nations regarding projects and partnership have occurred since April 2015. First Nations community members are part of the scientific advisory team and the research team on the river. In addition, one third of the full-time team at the Miramichi hatchery and two field staff are from First Nations. CAST works closely with the First Nation communities to ensure their knowledge and cultural values are key components of all CAST activities, but it is DFO, not CAST, who must formally and appropriately consult with the First Nation communities.
CAST has invested time, talent and significant financial resources to support four research projects. Over the past 2.5 years eleven respected, world class scientists from UNB and the University of Laval have gathered and discussed these projects focusing on saving wild Atlantic salmon. Experts from across Canada and the USA have been brought to New Brunswick to make sure we get this right.
Since February of 2015 CAST has submitted 5 updates of its proposal to DFO Gulf Region. The most recent lengthy document was the result of feedback from all stakeholders.
In April 2017 CAST was very pleased to receive the following email feedback from DFO Gulf Region: "… this is the kind of package we have been hoping to see for a while" and "… a complete package for sure."
In media reports yesterday, DFO suggested that CAST did not comply with a peer review and therefore no fish could be released. To be clear, CAST has always agreed with an independent scientific peer review prior to release of fish. We have expressed this in writing several times.
On June 29, 2017 DFO wrote to CAST and UNB suggesting a "lite review" and the release of 600 fish, followed by a more fulsome review in the fall 2017. The request by DFO would allow them to deal with more pressing issues and we agreed to a new process. Unexpectedly, on September 25th, 2017 DFO advised they would not approve the release of the fish, and introduced old and new stipulations for a release that could never be met before the maturing fish at the Miramichi Hatchery were ready to spawn a few weeks later.
CAST is at a crossroads. There is no amount of passion, science and funding that can save wild Atlantic salmon as long as DFO continues to demonstrate a lack of leadership and repeated waffling that appears to be based on personal opinion, not science, as well as a similar lack of accountability for its commitments to the science. We can't be successful with studies that might save wild Atlantic salmon without DFO's support.
CAST remains committed to the cause of saving wild Atlantic salmon. We know we can't do it without First Nations and DFO. We are again asking DFO for clarity. Give CAST a clear path on how we can proceed with future work so that we are not wasting time, talent and money. We need clear direction and leadership from DFO within the next 30 days in order to determine the future of CAST.
SOURCE Collaboration for Atlantic Salmon Tomorrow (CAST)
For further information: Tommi Linnansaari, CAST-UNB Research Chair, Canadian Rivers Institute, University of New Brunswick, [email protected], Telephone: (506) 447-3450