New study launched to examine elusive fisher population

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New study launched to examine elusive fisher population

The province has decided it needs to learn more about one of its most mysterious living creatures.

A new study on the rarely seen and elusive fisher is launching this fall. 

The large member of the weasel family is managed and trapped in New Brunswick. The province is now requiring carcasses from those harvested animals to be turned in for study at the end of the trapping season. 

"Fishers are one of our species that are of a special management concern," said Jonathan Cormier, the province's furbearer biologist. "They have a low reproductive potential relative to other furbearers and they are easily overharvested."

Numbers may be declining

 The study has been prompted by a concern that their numbers may be in decline. 

"The harvest has been declining over the past several years," said Cormier. "But that does not mean that the population is declining as well. There could be other factors as well, weather could have an impact, or effort by trappers." 

Cormier said fishers, which command a relatively high pelt price, have been overharvested in the past.

Data will be collected and recorded from each carcass, including sex and location of harvest. Teeth will also be collected and sent to a lab in the United States in order to gain an age approximation of each individual.  

Similar process as with three other species

The process is similar to that already carried out for three other species also managed and trapped in New Brunswick. 

"We've had to turn in bobcat, martin, and otter carcasses in the past and still do presently," said Mitchell Schriver, the vice-president of the New Brunswick Trapper and Fur Harvester Federation. "This year we do have to turn in the fisher carcasses for the biological study. And that helps everyone."

A population estimate will give wildlife managers an idea of how many fishers can be harvested in a given season without damaging the population, as well where in the province fishers are found in low numbers. 

"They are elusive," said Cormier. "They may see you, but you won't see them." 

Cormier said male fishers can be up to four feet long, including the tail. They're large enough that people often mistake them for cougars.

The value of the New Brunswick fur harvest has plummeted in recent years. The 2015/2016 season was recorded as a 24-year low for the industry due to lower demands from the largest consumers of Canadian fur, Russia and China.

"Fur prices have been down," said Cormier. "Which causes a lot of trappers to keep their gear at home instead of out in the woods. So, I just want to be sure that this decline in harvest is due to possible trapping pressure, or is weather related as opposed to something biological." 

In the 2014/2015 season a total of 467 fisher pelts were exported at a value of $86.28 each.

Last season New Brunswick exported 375 pelts that saw a drastic decline in value to $52.50, a drop of about 40 per cent according to last year's New Brunswick furbearer harvest report.