Our Atlantic Salmon Story

Atlantic salmon

Illustration by Jeffrey C. Domm

Atlantic salmon fisheries have been an important part of our Canadian social heritage for more than 150 years. Due to declines in abundance of Atlantic salmon observed in the 1980s, numerous measures have been implemented to promote partnerships, conservation, protection and research, including a full moratorium on all commercial fishing in Eastern Canada, implemented in 2000.

The Government of Canada is strongly committed to the conservation and protection of such a vital resource to all Canadians. That is why over the years several measures and investments have been made to support conservation and stocks rebuilding.

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In March 2015, Fisheries and Oceans Canada launched the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Atlantic Salmon to address the declining wild Atlantic salmon returns and chart a course of action to reverse this trend. The Committee, composed of stakeholders and experts from the four Atlantic provinces and Quebec, consulted with local stakeholders in Halifax, Moncton, St. John’s and Québec City who have an interest in Atlantic salmon conservation. The Committee completed its final report in July. 

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Conservation and Habitat Protection

A one-time $30 million conditional grant was used to establish the Atlantic Salmon Endowment Fund to invest in the conservation and enhancement of wild Atlantic salmon and its habitat. Also, close to $4.1M have been awarded to 73 projects benefitting Atlantic salmon conservation and habitat throughout Atlantic Canada since the creation of the Recreational Fisheries Conservation Partnerships Program.

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Science and Research

Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientists are actively monitoring Atlantic salmon populations in key index rivers of eastern Canada, working closely with stakeholder groups to undertake rigorous counts of salmon returns in rivers throughout Atlantic Canada.

Management measures are based on the most up-to-date science advice, which provides a recommended level of removals which individual populations can sustain. Departmental scientists are currently working to update key reference points for Atlantic salmon, which will help guide future management under the Precautionary Approach. The Government has also invested in the Live Gene Bank program for the Endangered Population of Atlantic salmon in the Inner Bay of Fundy.

The Department also held the Atlantic Salmon Marine Threats workshop with stakeholders in early December with the focus on better understanding at-sea threats faced by salmon originating from rivers in Atlantic Canada. This is key work, as juvenile production remains stable in most Atlantic salmon populations, but at-sea mortality is estimated to be high.

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Management and Enforcement

Management measures are developed in consultation with Provinces, stakeholders and First Nations and Aboriginal Groups. Some current management measures introduced to compensate for low marine survival include: reduced daily and seasonal bag limits, mandatory catch and release fishing, salmon fishing closures in areas where the Conservation Spawner Requirements are not being met, and restrictions on commercial pelagic fisheries to stop or minimize salmon by-catch. Enforcement activities are carried out throughout Atlantic Canada, with over 65,000 hours of monitoring and enforcement activities being directed to Atlantic salmon in 2013.

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As a member of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO), along with other member countries (United States, Norway, Russia, Denmark and the European Union), the Government of Canada reports annually on progress made relative to actions taken on our commitment to implement NASCO Regulations, Agreements and Guidelines. These include guidelines for management of salmon fisheries, minimum standards for catch statistics and the protection, restoration and enhancement of Atlantic salmon habitat.

Canada works closely with NASCO members to limit harvests and strengthen management measures for Atlantic salmon. Of particular concern to Canada is Greenland’s harvest of Atlantic salmon. We continue to work with Greenland both bilaterally and within the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization to address concerns regarding the harvest of Atlantic salmon in the northwest Atlantic.

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Atlantic Salmon
Atlantic Salmon

With its pointed head, well-developed teeth and silvery sides, the Atlantic salmon is instantly recognizable. When at sea, the salmon’s back varies through shades of brown, green and blue, and it has numerous black spots scattered along its body. When spawning, the fish becomes bronze-purple in colour and develops reddish spots on head and body.

A complex cycle of life

Atlantic Salmon life cycle

From humble beginnings as pea-sized orange eggs in riverbeds, Atlantic salmon undergo many changes during their lives. Two to six years after being born as freshwater fish, they spontaneously adapt themselves to saltwater life and head out to sea. After a year or more, they return to the rivers where they were born—sometimes leaping obstacles as much as three metres high to travel upstream and spawn in the shallow tributaries where they hatched.

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