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Recreational Atlantic Salmon Fishing

The Cigar Butt danced across Gallagher into a stretch of sunlight. Was there a silver flash? Or was my hopeful self only imagining it?

I cast again, watching the line slowly unfurl over the same patch of sunlight. A bump — then nothing. I pull the line in . . . and the guide replaces the Cigar Butt with a Black Bear Green Butt.

I throw the line out at the exact same distance, at the same target. A dark head emerges from the pool. I watch. Time stands still; a sixteenth of a second is an eternity.

The salmon mouths the Black Bear Green Butt and I pull my rod sharply up to tighten the line and set the hook.

Whap! My reel sings as the salmon pulls my line out. My arms strain at the effort of keeping my rod vertical to my body.

The line slackens; I reel in very fast till the line is taut once more. Quiet, even the birds aren't singing.

The reel starts spinning again as the fish makes a run for the rapids below the pool.

It jumps, I bow, and once more I reel in again. And so the dance continues for 20 minutes.

Time is running out; once in the net, the guide gently removes the hook from the salmon's mouth, then puts the valiant warrior back in the water. Holding it by its tail he gently massages its sides.

When the tail starts moving, he lets it go and in a flash of silver, the salmon is gone.

Honourable senators, I rise today to engage in debate on Honourable Senator Maltais' inquiry in respect of the safeguarding of the Atlantic salmon fishery in the marine areas of Eastern Canada and the importance of protecting Atlantic salmon for future generations.

Canada is a country that is rich in fresh water; that is a fact. On an average annual basis, Canadian rivers discharge nearly nine per cent of the world's renewable water supply, although Canada has less than one per cent of the world's population.

It's important to note that in Canada, there are more than 1,000 Atlantic salmon rivers. Alarmingly, though, many salmon runs are endangered or at risk. A recent report released by the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the world's leading non-profit organization dedicated to wild salmon conservation, tells a troubling story. In it, data gathered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada is shared. It shows that many of Eastern Canada's Atlantic salmon runs have been listed as endangered, at risk, or of special concern.

According to the Atlantic Salmon Federation's expert view, this is due in part to overfishing both in Canadian rivers and in international waters, overfishing by Greenland, overfishing in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, habitat destruction, open-net pen salmon aquaculture and climate change.

This organization believes that while not all the problems can be easily resolved, some common-sense measures could be taken immediately.

These suggested approaches could go a long way towards not only slowing the Atlantic salmon's decline, but rebuilding their populations to healthy, self-sustaining levels. They would also benefit rural economies and communities in Eastern Canada which rely upon them.

These are common-sense solutions, and they are as follows: First, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans needs to ensure there is sufficient capacity necessary to implement the provisions of the amended Fisheries Act and protect the important salmon spawning and rearing habitat.

The act was last amended in 2012 to focus on protecting the productivity of recreational, commercial and Aboriginal fisheries. The amendments were intended to deal with the significant threats to the fisheries and their habitat.

Second, DFO must manage the threats to the sustainability and ongoing productivity of Canada's commercial, recreational and Aboriginal fisheries. The department must also work in partnership with others engaged in fishery protection to ensure optimum safeguarding and remediation of salmon stocks.

Third, the Atlantic Salmon Federation maintains that compliance with catch-and-release laws for salmon is key to the population health of the species.

Colleagues, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador all have laws requiring the release of all caught large salmon; only in Quebec are they still permitted to be retained.

Junior salmon — or grilse, as they are known — are salmon that have only spent one winter at sea before returning to the river. The experts at the Atlantic Salmon Federation maintain that it is the protection of this element of the stock that will help keep salmon numbers up. Currently, anglers may retain one grilse a day to a maximum of four for the season in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and up to a maximum of six in Newfoundland and Labrador, depending upon the river. The New Brunswick Salmon Council is, in fact, urging recreational fishermen to release all grisle catches in an effort to keep that province's stocks healthy.

The Atlantic Salmon Federation is also advocating that, in Labrador, Canada should work with First Nations to satisfy their subsistence through selective harvest, which would enable the careful release of the valuable large spawners. Many other First Nations in the southern Maritimes can't conduct their food, social and ceremonial fisheries for Atlantic salmon because the salmon runs adjacent to their communities are endangered.

There needs to be expanded assessment to get a true picture of the health of Labrador's salmon populations that are found in more than 100 rivers. Expanded assessment would enable better management and conservation of stocks.

With regard to the issue of international overfishing, let us examine the situation with both the Greenland and Saint-Pierre and Miquelon fisheries, respectively. Greenland also needs to implement better management, regulation, monitoring and reporting on its salmon fishery. In 2013, Greenland harvested 47 tonnes of salmon, 82 per cent of which were of Canadian origin. The Atlantic Salmon Federation believes that the Greenland harvest should be limited to a subsistence fishery, which historically represents a yield of about 20 tonnes.

In the case of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization, of which Canada is a member, must make a bigger effort to get France to the table to discuss ways to deal with this rising interceptory fishing. Last year's harvest by Saint-Pierre and Miquelon was the largest in 44 years, at 5.3 tonnes and nearly all of it was Canadian salmon, since they have no salmon rivers of their own.

While Senator Maltais and I both have only recreational experience with salmon fishing, I think it's relevant and appropriate that we are debating this issue in this chamber. The reality is that the lucrative recreational fishing industry, as well as the thousands of good jobs that this industry creates in Atlantic Canada and rural Quebec, are in danger.

One thing seems certain: Without taking steps to ensure healthy and sustainable habitat, there are no fish. We need to embrace this reality and, collectively, we need to act. We must restore our wild salmon runs to health.

We must clearly communicate the changes to the Fisheries Act and their implications to industry, to First Nations and to those overfishing internationally, and we must do so working alongside concerned conservation organizations.

Honourable colleagues, as Hume Cronyn, the actor, once said, recalling vacations at La Roche, Quebec: "It's never the actual fishing that stays with you, only the quality of your surroundings: its smells and sounds — its feel — so that suddenly, years later, you can catch the odour of wet pine needles, or hear the happy giggle of fast water running over stones and be transported back, immediately and totally."

I have described today a wonderfully Canadian experience — an idyllic yet exhilarating adventure where the line between nature and human nature becomes beautifully blurred.

Moreover, the Atlantic salmon is a cultural icon, in addition to being an important indicator of the health of the environment in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

Ascribing to the recommended catch-and-release regimen will help ensure that the Atlantic salmon fishery remains sustainable and hopefully robust in the future.