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Economic Benefits of Recreational Atlantic Salmon Fishing—Inquiry

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Statement made on 17 May 2012 by Senator Wilfred Moore

Hon. Wilfred P. Moore:

Honourable senators, I am pleased to join in the debate of the inquiry commenced by the Honourable Michael A. Meighen regarding the economic benefits of recreational Atlantic salmon fishing in Canada.

Salmon fishing in Nova Scotia has a long and rich history. The rivers of the province where salmon spawn include, on the mainland, the Mersey, LaHave, Gold, Ecum Secum, the St. Mary's, the East and West St. Mary's and the River Philip. In Cape Breton, there is the Margaree, Cheticamp, North Aspy, Baddeck, Middle River, Indian Brook and the Barrachois.

All of these rivers have an interesting story to tell when it comes to fishing wild Atlantic salmon, and the St. Mary's is no different. Running through Guysborough, Antigonish and Pictou Counties, the St. Mary's is one of Nova Scotia's longest rivers. First named Riviere Isle Verte by Samuel de Champlain, the river received the name "St. Mary's" from a nearby French fort, Fort Sainte Marie, around 1669.

Somewhere around the early 1900s, people began to travel to the river to fish salmon. One of the most notable was Babe Ruth. Legend has it that he may not have hit so many home runs if a guide had not pulled him from the river after he fell in a deep pool.

In 2009, the recreational salmon fishery was closed on the west branch of the St. Mary's. Indeed, the Gardner Pinfold report, mentioned earlier by colleagues, states that the salmon fishery along the eastern coast of Nova Scotia, as well as the Bay of Fundy, is endangered and that the salmon fishery along the Gulf of St. Lawrence is designated as a special concern.

The loss of the wild Atlantic salmon fishery in Nova Scotia would mean the loss of $10 million in salmon-related spending activity and the jobs and businesses that depend on that fishery, not to mention the loss of a species that has inhabited the waters of Nova Scotia for as long as inhabitants of the area can remember.

The Margaree River in Cape Breton generates $2.9 million in spending, $2.5 million in GDP, 70 full-time jobs and $2.1 million in income. This is not a mere drop in the bucket for that community.

Unfortunately, salmon farming has emerged as a threat to the recovery of wild Atlantic salmon stocks. The Gardner Pinfold report states:

Over 90 per cent of all commercial aquaculture . . . in Canada involves raising domesticated Atlantic salmon . . . at the mouths of rivers where wild salmon pass by. . . . The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) have identified salmon farming as a key threat. Farmed salmon can spread diseases and parasites to wild salmon, while escaped domesticated salmon compete for food and habitat . . . and interbreed with wild salmon thereby weakening the gene pool.

This past week in Halifax's newspaper, The Chronicle Herald, an opinion piece by Ralph Surette appeared highlighting the dangers of salmon farming. He noted that many other problems that had been experienced in areas where salmon farming has taken place are now coming to Nova Scotia. Cooke Aquaculture is on trial for allegedly dumping illegal substances from its farming operation into the Bay of Fundy which killed lobsters in the area.

Surette notes that Nova Scotians "don't want an end to salmon farming. They want it sustainable. . . ." They want to see an end "to 'open-pen' farming in favour of shore-based pens."

Let us hope that a middle ground can be found whereby the two, wild and domesticated salmon, might be produced in the same areas without any detriment.

That brings me to those working to preserve, promote and protect wild Atlantic salmon. The lead agency in this work is the Atlantic Salmon Federation, or ASF, an assembly of keen, well-motivated volunteers. Let me tell honourable senators about a few of the projects undertaken by the ASF.

In a joint effort with the Nova Scotia Salmon Federation, which is a council of the ASF, the ASF has completed a lime treatment of the West River which feeds into Sheet Harbour, Halifax County, Nova Scotia. This acid rain mitigation is the only one of its kind in North America. It cost $700,000, all private funds.

The ASF has undertaken other projects in Nova Scotia, including at Big LaHave Lake in Lunenburg County which feeds into a river system. This is a multi-year liming project to enhance the fish habitat and salmon population, and this work is being done with the participation of the LaHave River Salmon Association.

The ASF has done work on the fish habitat of the Margaree River in Inverness County and the St. Mary's River. It has done that work in conjunction with local volunteers.

In Nova Scotia, we have the "Adopt a Stream" program whereby a portion of one's sport fishing licence fee goes to this program. It is administered by the Nova Scotia Salmon Federation. This fund amounts to approximately $300,000 per year and, when the volunteer hours and donated materials are factored in, that figure is multiplied threefold to a total contribution of nearly $1 million.

The ASF has also done physical habitat reconstruction work on the River Philip in Cumberland County, where it also carries out an angler mark and recapture program to assist in estimating the fish population.

Further, the ASF has done liming to improve the water quality of the Gold River in Lunenburg County. It has done so in association with the volunteer Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation.

The ASF has done other good works in the Sackville River in Halifax County and the Chéticamp River tributaries in Inverness County.

Another interesting project of the ASF is its tagging program. Sonic tags are attached to smolts which are released into the wild and tracked. When the fish cross a line of signal receivers, their movements are monitored, and this work assists in determining the waters in which the fish may encounter problems.

Honourable senators, I cite all of these works to demonstrate the significant contribution by ASF to our river systems, fish habitat, fish population and the economic enhancement of our communities.

Unfortunately, the budget bill of 2012 does not seem to have much in it for the protection of fish habitats. Under the Fisheries Act section, the government will eliminate certain reporting requirements and will change the way in which fish habitats are protected to a complex, two-step process. The proposed changes will narrow the scope of waterways to be protected and will only require intervention when "serious harm" will be caused to fish. This sounds to me like a loosening of the rules. I hope not.

Honourable senators, it is incredibly important for us to lend our support to the protection of our wild Atlantic salmon fishery. We know that this recreational fishery boosts our economy, and we know that protecting our wild salmon is paramount for us as stewards of our environment. Protecting the wild Atlantic salmon and promoting the economy are not competing concepts. In fact, they can be harmonious and to the benefit of all. I hope this inquiry by Senator Meighen accomplishes just that.

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