Defending New Brunswick’s Saint John River Muskie
Some 60 years ago the Quebec government sought to reestablish muskie in a small lake that was part of one of many watersheds that fed New Brunswick’s Saint John River. Inevitably, the muskie established a viable population, but to the consternation of Atlantic salmon conservationists, they also eventually found their way into the Saint John River itself. Ever since, New Brunswick’s now Thriving muskie population has been the source of continuous hard feelings, misunderstanding, and government sponsored fishocide. Enter, Muskie Canada Inc and a legion of muskie fanatics that recognized the Saint John river muskie population for what it is, North America’s next muskie fishing hot spot.
Of course, angling enthusiasm is seldom a sufficient reason in itself to single-handedly save a fish population from destruction. There also needs to be an ecological, historic, subsistence, cultural, or economic incentive. In the case of NB muskie, growing enthusiasm for this recent newcomer is its ability to attract non-weather dependent anglers to the region. Tourists that are expanding what is otherwise a relatively short summer tourism season.
NB muskie are the focus of an image make-over thanks to widespread positive international media coverage in the form of TV shows and magazine articles that are universally declaring NB muskie as north America’s newest hottest muskie fishery. At the same time, scientists have been hard at work testing and generally debunking fears that muskie are dining out largely at the expense of endangered Atlantic salmon. Numerous scientific reports have now determined that muskie, while happy to consume fish of most any species and size up to ½ their own length, are not, in fact, targeting Atlantic salmon. Further, that their predation is not contributing to the demise of Atlantic salmon. Of course, sceptics point to seals as another species scientists have similarly absolved of suppressing salmon recovery, which just goes to show that even science isn’t sufficient to convince the most skeptical among us.
Never-the-less, the muskie have arrived, they have become habituated or naturalized, or in other words, made themselves a new home. Removing a fish species from a watershed, once established, is near impossible, but that doesn’t mean a concerted effort backed up with considerable annual funding can’t keep a fish species suppressed. One need only look at the $20 million spent each year to control lamprey in the Great Lakes. The question is, do politicians and the public who elect them want to see their tax dollars being used to suppress a fish species, that for all intents and purposes, is a net benefit to the social and economic fabric of the region? For some, such a capitulation represents moving one step closer to abandoning any hopes of returning to the glory years of world class salmon angling.