Blue Fish News – November 23, 2021
In this November 23, 2021 issue of the Blue Fish Canada News we begin with a focus on the return of Great White sharks to Atlantic Canada and what it means for the ecosystem, tourism, fish and fishing. As always, we include a specially curated list of summaries and links to timely fishing, fish health, water quality and other news. Our closing guest feature explores what recent floods in B.C. means for spawning Pacific salmon.
This Week’s Feature – Atlantic Canada’s Apex Predators Are Back!
Canada may have the longest coastline of any country in the world, including the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans, but in reality it’s just one big inter-connected ocean covering 71% of the earth’s surface. Setting aside the naming protocols employed by cartographers, the point I’m heading towards is that “great white” sharks care little about lines on a map, and have found their way back to Atlantic Canada. Sharks have always been present along Canada’s east coast, mainly blue sharks, but the return of white sharks has significant ramifications for both the marine ecosystem and the way we humans recreate along the Atlantic coast.
In 2019, I spent a week along the coast of Maine with my family taking daily dips in the frigid Atlantic and building sand castles on the beach. It was the last year tourism officials along the U.S. North Atlantic coast would pretend that shark attacks were no more likely than getting hit by lightening. By 2020 a rash of attacks by white sharks off Cape Cod and further north blew this idyllic beach vacation myth out to sea. Close to 400 white sharks have since been tagged along the Atlantic coastline between Massachusetts and Nova Scotia, but based on amateur drone surveillance, These sharks with their highly visible tracking tags represent only about 10 out of every 100 white shark sightings along the coast. Statistically, this doesn’t mean there are 4000 white sharks cruising along the North Atlantic east coast, but what it does mean is that there are likely far more than the 3500 white sharks left in the world as claimed by some groups.
Increasing white shark abundance along the Canadian and U.S. East Coast is linked to grey seal numbers rebounding significantly after seal culls ended in the 1980’s. U.S. officials now estimate the grey seal population along their north-east Atlantic coast to be approximately 50,000. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to Canada. According to the NOAA there are now approximately 450,000 grey seals and a further 30,000 harbour seals in total along North America’s east coast. The vast majority of these are located in Canada. Add in five more seal species commonly found in Canada such as ringed, hispida, harp, bearded and hooded, and it adds up to a lot of potential white shark forage. To be honest, getting exact numbers isn’t easy as estimates range wildly based on who’s website you visit.
Up until recently, grey seals have ventured off shore in pursuit of schools of fish at will. The more common blue sharks represent no real threat to the much bigger grey seals that can weigh as much as 400 kilos. It means seals have been travelling where and when they want for several decades now, and their unfettered access to fish has meant their numbers have increased exponentially. Well, no more.
Commercial fishers and even some scientists have been calling for the cull of seals to be renewed, claiming that their impact on cod stock recovery is significant. These claims have since largely been disproven, but that doesn’t mean the sheer number of seals isn’t impacting fish stocks in general.
When white sharks first started being sighted off Canada’s Atlantic coastline there were some who believed their presence was due to warming waters brought about by climate change. However, veteran biologists like Dr. Chris Harvey-Clark from Dalhousie University offer an alternative hypothesis – they are coming for the seals. Chris has been documenting and reporting on sea life along Canada’s Atlantic coast for decades, and recently encountered a white shark himself while diving near the entrance to Halifax Harbour. Link below to listen to my latest conversation with Chris following his hair-raising close encounter with a three-meter white shark in mid-November 2021 on The Blue Fish Radio Show: https://www.spreaker.com/user/5725616/e348-chris-harvey-clark-on-the-return-of
Upon reaching maturity white sharks transition from preying on fish, in favour of energy-foods like blubbery mammals – seals. Seals aren’t stupid, and figure out quick enough that the wide open ocean is no place to be caught feeding. On the other hand, white sharks are highly evolved apex predators, and it doesn’t take them long to figure out where grey seals live – along the coast. According to Chris Harvey-Clark, the grey seals he encounters have already altered their behaviour, and now seem to be pinned down along their rookeries where they are growing increasingly hungry.
Each spring as white sharks arrive along Canada’s east coast their first order of business is figuring out where to find fish if they are juveniles, or seals if they are adults. Sharks don’t necessarily travel in “shivers”, but that doesn’t mean they won’t school-up when a “bob” of seals have been located. In the meantime, be prepared for white sharks to be cruising beaches and other stretches of coastline as they familiarize themselves with the appearance, flavour and habits of newly preferred pray.
Juvenile white sharks in the 3-meter range pose serious risks to humans as they experiment with forage options as they transition from fish to mammals. But it doesn’t mean you need not fear larger adults such as an 800-kilo 4-meter male white shark tagged nearby the Magdalen Islands, or the recently christened “Queen of the Ocean” tagged off the coast of Nova Scotia in October 2020 weighing 1,606 kilograms and measuring nearly 5.25 metres.
For many beach-goers white sharks means an end to swimming, surfing, paddle-boarding and maybe even kayaking with impunity. Many beaches in Cape Cod even discourage wading into the water past your knees. That’s O.K. though, most of the ocean temperatures along the beaches in Atlantic Canada rarely warm up past 15 degrees Celsius. As a former owner of a bungalow in Cape Breton Nova Scotia for 13 years, and having canoed the coasts of New Brunswick and P.E.I. I know from experience that finding warm ocean water inshore where the Gulf Stream touches land is rare.
To some, white sharks represent a solution to the problem of seals feeding on schools of commercially valuable fish with abandonment. Politicians are now breathing easier as none had to stick their neck out and authorize a seal cull. Nature is taking care of its own. Balance is being restored. Thanks to white sharks, nearshore and offshore schools of fish, and even inshore schools, now have ample guardians – the exception being blue fin tuna, a fish enjoyed by white sharks of all sizes.
Of course, fish stock recovery along Canada’s Atlantic coast is tenuous at best. Rising or warming oceans, an end to the Gulf Stream, new invasive species from the south, infectious diseases spread from fish pen operations, microplastics, over fishing, or who knows what else could easily tip nature’s balance once again. In the meantime though, this balance is in the process of being restored. Melting glaciers and sea ice continue to keep ocean temperatures in check for the most part. Just maybe government fish stock rebuilding efforts will finally start to pay off. Watch out lobster and crab, could it be that North Atlantic cod are finally on the rebound?
The Latest Fishing, Fish Health and Water Quality News
Calling the largemouth the single most popularly targeted game fish in the world seems like a fairly safe bet / AFTCO
Among the reasons for this are its aggressive nature, hard strike, occasional gill-rattling leaps and — particularly — the proclivity of this hardy species to thrive just about anywhere and everywhere. Once found only in its native region of eastern North America, it supports active sport fisheries around the world in locations such as Japan, China, Russia, most western European countries and many African nations as well. The economic importance of this species is remarkable. It lives happily in lakes and slower rivers ranging from tropical areas to hard, cold arctic regions near the poles. The largemouth (aka black bass) is the largest member of the sunfish family, Centrarchidae.
Want to Save a Failing Fishery? Take the Long View / Hakai Magazine
Almost 30 years ago, the cod fishery that had sustained commercial fishers in Newfoundland and Labrador for centuries came to an abrupt end, with a government-imposed moratorium aimed at saving the collapsing cod population. Now, new research shows that the collapse was not inevitable, and that—if it weren’t for short-term thinking decades earlier—the cod fishery could have been viable to this day. A new model based on catch records dating back to 1508 shows that the cod population remained relatively stable from the 16th century until the 1960s, when the advent of large-scale industrial trawling caused catches to skyrocket. From catches of 100,000 to 200,000 tonnes a year for most of the 18th and 19th centuries, the catch climbed until it peaked at 810,000 tonnes in 1968. From there, the population declined precipitously.
Products such as the Sharkbanz2 advertise that they utilize electromagnetic waves to repel sharks from the wearer or your fishing tackle. A worthwhile consideration for anglers and beachgoers where the risk of sharks is present.
How a Fish in Hamilton Broke a World Record – for All the Wrong Reasons / TVO.org
In 2015, a handful of University of Toronto researchers in a small boat hauled in a brown bullhead catfish from Hamilton Harbour, on the western tip of Lake Ontario. This summer, they reported that the fish had broken a world record — it contained 915 synthetic particles, the most ever recorded. The brown bullhead was one of 212 specimens examined during six years of research on plastics pollution led by Keenan Munno at U of T’s Rochman Lab and published in Conservation Biology this summer. Munno and her team discovered synthetic particles in each. In the bullhead, some of the smallest, called nanoplastics, had migrated from its digestive system to its skeletal muscles: the fillets often sold in grocery stores.
How Fish Schools Swim
Nature documentaries have long exploited the elegant swerves of massive schools of fish. Fish team up to cut through the water more easily and protect themselves from predators. But new simulations are revealing how fish schools also operate like superorganisms. Each individual fish seems to be optimized—from body length to how often it moves its tail—for the group’s maximum surveillance and energy efficiency.
Mowi Pauses NL Expansion After Near $8M Hit from Salmon Problems / ASF
With nearly a half million open net-pen caged salmon dead this fall at several sites, the company is pushing the pause button on its planned expansion in the province.
Climate Change Causes Death, Disease at NS Fish Hatchery / ASF
The hatchery at Nova Scotia’s Fraser’s Mills, Antigonish County, has big problems, and is looking for new solutions to go forward.
Preserving Genetic Diversity Gives Wild Populations Their Best Chance at Long-Term Survival / NOAA
A new paper shows that genetic variation is crucial to a population’s short- and long-term viability. The paper, by a NOAA Fisheries Northwest Fisheries Science Center researcher, examined decades of theoretical and empirical evidence. It was published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.
Survivor Salmon that Withstand Drought and Ocean Warming Provide a Lifeline for California Chinook / NOAA
In drought years and when marine heat waves warm the Pacific Ocean, late-migrating juvenile spring-run Chinook salmon of California’s Central Valley are the ultimate survivors. According to a recent study, they are among the few salmon that return to spawning rivers in those difficult years to keep their populations alive.
Restoration of historic lake trout spawning bed begins on Ontario’s Diamond Lake / Watersheds Canada
A momentous first step was taken last month to restore a historic lake trout spawning bed in the Madawaska Valley region. Diamond Lake is one of only twelve trout lakes in Renfrew County, Ontario. For many years the trout population has experienced struggles on the lake, with the once productive spawning bed being recently damaged by siltation. The Bass Pro Shops & Cabela’s Outdoor Fund donated critical funds to launch the restoration process of the trout spawning bed, with project completion scheduled for spring 2022.
Goldfish and other aquarium species have become big issues at 3 Lethbridge ponds / CBC News
In Lethbridge, Alta., goldfish and other aquarium species like koi have become problematic at three ponds: Firelight Park, Chinook Lake and Elm Groves Pond. “These populations are a direct result of somebody putting fish in the storm ponds,” said Jackie Cardinal, the parks natural resource coordinator for the city.
Lobstermen and NPS Say No to Salmon Cages Next to Acadia Park / ASF
The issue of two proposed salmon aquaculture sites in Frenchman Bay, next to Acadia National Park, is generating concern for the ecology and health of these inshore waters.
Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray Gives Interview on Aquaculture in Newfoundland / CBC News
The new Canadian Minister of Fisheries and the Coast Guard was interviewed and provides insights on her thinking as she takes over the portfolio.
Atlantic Salmon Federation’s Jonathan Carr Wants Cooke to Improve Monitoring / ASF
ASF’s Vice-President of Research and Environment gave testimony on a proposed expansion of an aquaculture set of cages in St. Mary’s Bay operated by Cooke subsidiary Kelly Cove Salmon, and supported a more cautionary approach to save endangered wild salmon
DFO flags invasive species concerns as Baffinland seeks Mary River mine expansion / The Narwhal
Federal scientists say ships likely brought marine worms to the port of one of the world’s northernmost mines. Now vessel traffic could double as a result of a proposed expansion. According to the department, Baffinland should be developing a response plan to address Marenzelleria, the “high-risk potential aquatic invasive species that has been introduced to Milne Port.” This comes from a letter DFO submitted to the Nunavut Impact Review Board on Oct. 18 as part of the board’s assessment of Baffinland’s phase two development proposal, which would double the mine’s iron ore production.
Great Lakes DataStream is live! / DataStream
Explore 7 million open data points – including the Lake Partner Program data – collected by water monitors from across the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence Basin. The newest DataStream hub was released during Open Access Week in late October. The hub includes stories, resources and more.
Zebra Mussels & Toxic Algae – a link? / Science Daily
Michigan State University researchers recently detected a relationship between the presence of invasive zebra mussels and toxic algal blooms in a state lake. It seems the mussels like the taste of other algae, but leave a phytoplankton called Microcystis to thrive where it wouldn’t otherwise, resulting in an increase in blue-green algae. When the mussels died off one year due to warm weather (at temperatures that should have been ideal for algae growth), Microcystis decreased as well. This example of the “cascading effect” of complex climate-facilitated change in ecosystems was only noted due to the availability and analysis of a long-term data set for the lake. (Hooray long-term data!)
B.C. study shows sustainable management of salmon fishery before colonization / ASF
The study published Wednesday in the journal Scientific Reports examined chum salmon bones dating from between 400 BC and AD 1200 from four archeological sites around Burrard Inlet.
Could an Indigenous conservation area in Hudson Bay also be the key to saving carbon-rich peatlands? / The Narwhal
Northern Ontario’s James Bay and Hudson Bay — known in western Cree as Weeneebeg and Washaybeyoh — are 800-plus kilometres north of Toronto at their most southerly point, and unconnected to the rest of the province by road. The coastline and adjacent wetlands have long been understood as a globally significant site of migration and breeding for hundreds of bird species, and dozens of species at risk. The Mushkegowuk Council has resolutions on record from as early as the 1980s, calling for the creation of a Tribal Conservation Authority to manage this critical ecosystem. In August, the Mushkegowuk Council signed a memorandum of understanding with Parks Canada to establish a National Marine Conservation Area in James Bay and southwestern Hudson Bay. At more than 90,000 square kilometres — an area roughly the size of Portugal — the conservation area would be the largest in Ontario and second largest in the country, after Nunavut’s Tallurutiup Imanga.
Indigenous Guardians are patrolling the front lines of climate change / Globalnews.ca
There are some 70 groups of Indigenous Guardians across Canada. Their formal network is only five years old, but the work they do goes back for hundreds of generations. Fisheries audit: little.
Improvement over past five years despite government commitments | Campbell / River Mirror
The most recent audit of Canada’s fisheries show little improvement over the past five years, with many unknowns remaining. About 30 per cent of Canada’s fisheries are considered healthy, a decline from 2017. Conversely, about 17 per cent were assessed as “critical” while 16 per cent were ranked as “cautious.” But over a third of fisheries are considered unknowns — meaning not enough information is available to assess their status.
Moratorium sought on herring fisheries; critical for salmon / Victoria Times
Conservationists are calling for a moratorium on both the upcoming food-and-bait herring fishery in the Strait of Georgia and next season’s roe herring fishery to protect stocks of the small silver fish. They fear herring living year-round in the Strait of Georgia are at risk due to fishing. Resident herring are caught in the winter, as well as in March, when they are pulled up in nets along with migratory herring returning to the strait to spawn.
Canada releases first-ever code for care and handling of farmed salmonids / The Fish Site
The Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) have announced the release of the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farmed Salmonids. Canada’s Codes of Practice are nationally developed guidelines for the care and handling of farm animals. They serve as the foundation for ensuring that farm animals are cared for using sound management and welfare practices that promote animal health and well-being. Codes are used as educational tools, reference materials for regulations and the foundation for industry animal care assessment programs. “This code reflects the hard but very important conversations we had on how to bring meaningful improvements to the welfare of farmed salmonids in Canada.” – LEIGH GAFFNEY, WORLD ANIMAL PROTECTION CANADA.
Z-Man ElaZtech Lures Solve a Conservation Dilemma / The Fishing Wire
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has estimated that as many as 20 million pounds of soft plastic lures (SPLs) enter surface waters each year, and that 10 to 12 tons of them are lost or discarded. “We don’t think people are discarding them intentionally,” said University of Illinois researcher Cory Suski, who conducted a cooperative study with Canada’s Carlton University in 2014. “The baits just drop off the hook or half of it rips off and sinks to the bottom where it can’t be easily retrieved to evaluate change in SPL size and decomposition, researchers immersed eight different types of PVC-based SPLs in water at 39- and 70-degrees Fahrenheit for a period of two years. After just four months, in 70-degree water, the PVC baits had grown 10-percent in length. After two years in the warmer water, SPLs were 50-percent longer and 30-percent wider (i.e. a 6-inch bait swelled to 9-inches.) Coldwater immersed baits had grown by 25-percent. Similarly, the weight of SPLs more than doubled after just 7 months in water.
Electric Boat Bass Tournament Series Set for 2022
The Electric Bass Angling Championship powered by Elco Motor Yachts is a year-long series of fishing tournaments hosted by local fishing clubs throughout the U.S.
Webinar Recording: Green Stuff in the Water: No Day at the Beach / Lake Ontario Partner
Join us for a one-hour webinar as we talk about Cladophora! Cladophora are those green mats of algae in the water that you may have seen on beaches and along shorelines in Lake Ontario. While Cladophora is necessary for a healthy ecosystem, when nutrient levels in the water are too high—i.e., from lawn fertilizers, agricultural and urban runoff, and septic and sewage treatment systems—we see too much Cladophora growth. This can present aesthetic and odor issues that impair recreational uses of the lake, as well, decaying Cladophora harbors bacteria that can pose health threats to humans, fish and wildlife.
Video: Wild Salmon Watersheds / ASF
ASF’s Wild Salmon Watersheds program is a bold new initiative to conserve and restore the most productive salmon habitat. By giving wild salmon the cold, clean water they need, we’re also making a significant contribution to reversing the climate crisis.
Special Feature — What does the flooding in southwest B.C. mean for wild salmon? / (an extract from the Original article)
By Aaron Hill / Watershed Watch Salmon Society
Flooding is an essential part of a healthy natural river ecosystem, but it often takes a toll on salmon. This week’s flooding is taking an abnormally heavy toll. Many southern B.C. salmon populations are already at historic lows. Chum and coho are spawning now, and the raging waters are making successful spawning very difficult. For salmon that have already spawned, the flood waters are scouring out their eggs or depositing silt on them. And those massive pump stations that are moving water out from behind the dikes and back into the river? Most of them are not “fish-friendly,” meaning they are killing large numbers of the fish that ended up in the flood zone.
It could take salmon several generations to recover.
Pollution is a problem, too. We hear from colleagues in Chilliwack that the waters in the flood zone are festooned with petrochemical slicks, human and animal waste, dead animals and garbage. Volunteers from the flood zone are dealing with rashes and eye infections.
All levels of government have known for many years that their dikes and pump stations are not strong enough to handle the increased flooding brought by global warming. They’ve been working towards doing something about it, but the planning has been too slow, and here we are. They have to kick their flood prevention into high gear.
But here’s the kicker for salmon. Over 1500 km of salmon habitat in the lower Fraser floodplain are blocked off by obsolete dikes, pump stations and floodgates. These structures need major upgrades to keep us safer. As those structures get upgraded, we have a historic opportunity to make them safe for salmon and open up huge swaths of prime salmon habitat. This will help rebuild depleted salmon runs. This is what “building back better” will look like for people and salmon.
We can also take better care of our watersheds by changing the way we log and develop our lands. Let’s leave last century’s failed water and land management practices in the past where they belong. And for the love of all that is good in the world, let’s get serious about curbing our greenhouse gas emissions before things get even worse.
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