Straight talk about the NB Fish Stocking Program
In the last two years since the closure of the Atlantic Salmon retention by the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, we have realized through conversation how little the residents of New Brunswick know about the provincial fish stocking program. Even though there is mention in the regulations annually, it appears that a large portion of our fishers have no idea that the province does any sort of regular fish stocking.
In a discussion last month where I had planned to purchase my fishing license, I asked about getting salmon tags for landlocked salmon. The vendor told me that salmon was closed for retention and there were no tags. I mentioned that I wanted only the opportunity to retain landlocked salmon that that completely lost the vendor. She had no idea what I was speaking about, and her eyes glazed over as I attempted to explain what I was talking about. I went elsewhere for the purchase...
In the days after I told other fishers of my experience and was surprised to learn that most of them had no idea what I was talking about either! “What is a landlocked salmon?” “The province stocks salmon?” I even had people argue with me that there was absolutely no retention. I proceeded to show them portions of the 2016 fish book online along with some very informative pages presented by the province and they were astounded. None of them had any idea!
A landlocked salmon is just how it sounds... it is a salmon that is «locked» by land. They are farm raised to a certain length, then stocked in lakes of appropriate depth for them to grow and flourish in those areas. And they are indeed still able to be retained this season, with the province offering 4 retention tags with a class 7/8 license.
In addition to the salmon stocking program, the province stocks brook trout in many lakes throughout the province.
In order to determine if a fish was one that has been stocked through the provincial program, before being stocked a fin is clipped on the fish so it can be distinguished from a wild fish. This enables fishers to submit a more intelligent angler survey at the end of the year.
Wilderness Obsession: Can you tell us a bit about your position and background? How long have you been working with our fishing programs in the province?
Krista DeBouver - My title is Fisheries Biologist. I started with the Department in 2000 at the provincially-operated fish hatchery (which is now de-commissioned), and have been working with the stocking program ever since.
Wilderness Obsession: There seems to be some confusion around the stocking programs in our province. Do you have a definition for a landlocked salmon? What is the difference between the regular Atlantic salmon and these landlocked?
Krista - A landlocked salmon is an Atlantic salmon, but it does not go to sea like the “regular” sea-run Atlantic salmon. Instead it spends its life cycle in lakes. They are hard to distinguish from sea-run Atlantic salmon but they are generally a bit smaller.
Wilderness Obsession: Can you confirm for us that residents are able to retain landlocked salmon this season, in spite of the federal ban on retention of Atlantic Salmon?
Krista - Yes, anglers will be able to retain landlocked salmon this season.
Wilderness Obsession: The fish book says that landlocked salmon between the length of 35 and 63cm are able to be retained, but only landlocks of 48cm and over require the use of one of the annual tags. Does that mean that a landlocked salmon between the length of 35cm and 47cm are able to be retained without using a tag? Yes, that is correct Can these be retained for those who didn't purchase a salmon license or is a salmon license always required for retention of landlocks?
Krista - Yes, landlocked salmon from 35 cm to 47cm can be retained even under a “trout” license or under a “live release” salmon license. However, in order to retain a landlocked salmon 48 to 63cm you would need a salmon retention license and the fish would have to be tagged.
Wilderness Obsession: How long has the province been stocking salmon and brook trout in the province and has the province changed much since inception?
Krista - The Province has been stocking landlocked salmon and brook trout since its fish hatchery was built in the late 1970s/ early 1980s. The program has changed over the years; particularly in 2004 when the provincial fish hatchery was decommissioned and sold. Shortly thereafter, the Province began using contracted facilities to maintain its fish for stocking purposes.
Wilderness Obsession: Are these stocked fish able to reproduce or are they sterile when released?
Krista - Currently, all stocked fish are able to reproduce.
Wilderness Obsession: We were told that the province once used to stock lake trout and even splake. Is this true and why has this program been stopped?
Krista - Yes, lake trout and splake were stocked by the Department for a number of years up until 2004. But when the provincial hatchery was closed and the Department switched to using contracted facilities to maintain the province’s fish, stocking lake trout and splake was stopped due to the increased cost to the program for maintaining these two additional species (i.e. each species has to be maintained in separate tanks. Also it takes lake trout ~ 6 years before they are able to reach maturity. This is a long time for a contracted facility to maintain a species before it can start reproducing more. The contracts with our hatcheries are ~ 5 years.)
Wilderness Obsession: Do the lakes stocked through this program ever change, or have they been consistently stocked? Does a new lake ever get added or perhaps one taken off the list?
Krista - Many lakes are, and have been, consistently stocked for years; however occasionally a lake gets taken off the list if new fish species, particularly predators or even competitor fish species (i.e. chain pickerel, smallmouth bass, etc.) are found in the lake. Also, if the access to the lake changes or deteriorates, a lake may be taken off the list. For instance, we no longer stock waters in Protected Natural Areas, as well there are lakes located on industrial freehold land that are no longer stocked because the industrial company charges an entry-fee. As well, the Department is always trying to find new waters to stock and in the last few years, new waters have been added to the list. Currently the lakes stocked with brook trout are stocked on an annual basis with ~20 lakes stocked each fall and ~43 lakes stocked each spring. Landlocked salmon lakes are stocked on an alternate year basis with 9 lakes being stocked on odd years (2015, 2017, etc.) and 16 lakes being stocked on even years (2016, 2018, etc.) Two lakes are stocked annually so that means there are 23 different lakes stocked with landlocked salmon
Wilderness Obsession: What are the criteria that determines which lakes are stocked?
Krista - Stocked lakes should have: 1) been previously assessed or inventoried (surveys have been done to determine water quality (temperature, oxygen, pH etc.) and biological fish species composition (what are the other fish species present? Are there too many competitors (i.e. suckers, perches, eel, fallfish, etc.) and/ or predators (i.e. chain pickerel, muskellunge, smallmouth bass, etc.) 2) no previous “poor stocking results” (unless conditions have changed, waters stocked previously in which fish did not survive should not be stocked again), 3) public access (this can be in the form of boat launches, roads, trails or treks through woods), 4) no negative impact on unique or rare aquatic species, 4) previous existence of brook trout and/ or landlocked salmon (whichever species being considered for stocking), 5) no history of winter kill (unless only stocked for spring season in urban lakes).
Wilderness Obsession: We discussed Blue-Green algae briefly in one of the questions, but as a biologist are you able to quantify how great the threat to our lakes is from cyanobacteria? We read an article last September about the outbreak at one of our favourite fishing lakes (Wheaton Lake) and someone from the Canadian Rivers Institute says that it's unlikely any marine life is left alive in the lake. Is that true? There seems to be no reference to blue-green algae killing fish in the DNR Q&A either.
Krista - There wouldn’t be any marine life (ocean/ sea) but there should still be aquatic life in the lake, whether it is fish, amphibian and insect life, etc. Check out this site about fish and consuming fish in blue-green algae water: http://mywildalberta.com/Fishing/SafetyProcedures/BlueGreenAlgae.aspx
Wilderness Obsession: How long does it take a hatchery to grow the trout and landlocked salmon to mature size for release?
Krista - Adult brook trout and landlocked salmon are spawned in the fall. The eggs grow over the winter, which become fry in early spring. By fall some of these fish (only brook trout) are released as “fall fingerlings” about 5 inches long, and the following spring the rest (brook trout and all landlocked salmon) are released as “spring yearlings” at about 7 inches long. These fish wouldn’t be considered “mature” in terms of spawning.
Wilderness Obsession: Every fisherman pays a $5 fee on their fishing license to support the fish stocking program. Does this money cover the entire fees of the provincial program or is more required?
Krista - Currently, aside from the salaries of a technician or two that help with the stocking program, all the monies for the stocking program comes from the $5. Typically, there are between 65.000 to 70,000 angling licenses sold for an annual revenue of $325K to $350K. At full stocking capacity (160,000+ brook trout and 40,000+ landlocked salmon) this may not be enough money to cover the stocking program; however, the stocking fund has accumulated funds due to the fact that there have been a number of years when the Department was not stocking at full capacity due to losses experienced at the contracted facilities.
Wilderness Obsession: In recent years, and perhaps especially last year, some of the lakes have been hit by blue-green algae infestations, and many of those are areas that are often stocked with salmon/trout through the program. Does the presence of blue-green algae change or halt the stocking program in that area and if so, for how long?
Krista - No, currently it is not affecting the stocking program; however, this is a fairly new dilemma with many of the lakes so it could eventually alter stocking practices. However, generally the lake is stocked before (May/ June) or after (October) the presence of blue-green algae is noticed.
Wilderness Obsession: Anglers are asked to submit a year-end angler survey with details. Can you speak to the importance of that anger survey and what that enables you to do? What is the participation rate of anglers in the province?
Krista - Less than 1% participation rate. If we had a decent response rate, we would be able to examine change over time in catch rates and fish size by species. This would enable finer scale management of recreational fish species. This could mean more liberal bag limits on waters that could sustain them and closed management of populations that are being over harvested.
Wilderness Obsession: We have found with dismay that many fishers in our area don't really have any idea about the provincial stocking program, however this might be magnified because in Southeastern NB the only lake in the program is Morris (Silver) Lake (brook trout). Do you think NB anglers know enough about the program and has the province done enough to inform anglers of this important program?
Krista - It’s unfortunate that not all places in NB (i.e. southeastern NB) have waters that are suitable for stocking and that many anglers are still unaware of the Department’s stocking program. In the last couple of years, we’ve added a page to the Fish book that an angler receives when they buy their license at a Service NB or outlet. However, now with e-licensing many people are probably not getting those books. The Department has a website about Fish Stocking (although the stocking program doesn’t have full or easy control of this website). Is there something you’d recommend for putting the Stocking Program out there?
Wilderness Obsession: How successful do you think the provincial stocking program has been at increasing the opportunities for New Brunswick anglers (whether they realize it or not)?
Krista - Hard to put a number on this but without the stocking, most of the landlocked salmon populations probably wouldn’t be able to sustain a fishery so for that aspect I’d have to say that all the landlocked salmon stockings are successful. For brook trout, I would say the majority are successful with the urban lakes (those closet to city/ town centres) probably being the most successful.
Wilderness Obsession would like to thank Krista DeBouver for her time with us and for her frank and eye opening information about this important but under-promoted program. As you can see, there are indeed opportunities this year to harvest land-locked salmon and there is an active brook trout stocking program presenting a great deal more opportunity for fishers of our province! Now the challenge is to get the word out there and encourage people to fill out those year-end surveys!
We wholeheartedly encourage all fishers in New Brunswick to keep track of their results this season and submit that year-end survey of results. Having less than a 1% participation rate in a province filled with obsessed and dedicated fishers is quite frankly embarrassing. As our guest says, filling out the year end survey would provide the province with better awareness of the fish population in our bodies of water, and enable them to better manage them. It could even present better opportunities for fishers! Come on everyone… let’s get that number up!
More information about the fish stocking program including locations sorted by county may be found on the government website at the following link:
Contact us and let us know!