An effort to help replenish  the Atlantic salmon in New Brunswick has taken a hit after the federal government denied a permit to allow the release of thousands of  the fish into the wild.

The salmon population near Miramichi, N.B. is an economic driver and the move by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has frustrated many who work and study the industry.

Collaboration for Atlantic Salmon Tomorrow, a group trying to save the fish, says the species population in the wild has been shrinking in recent years.

“They’re not laying enough eggs in the river to be able to sustain the population,” Andrew Willett, the group’s executive director, told CTV Atlantic.

The striped bass population in the region has exploded and has resulted in young salmonbeing eaten, according to the group.

“Predatory bass have exploded from 50,000 fish 10 years ago to over 1 million today,” a news release states. “At the same time wild Atlantic salmon populations are in crisis and at historic lows.”

In an effort to change that, more than 2,500 Atlantic Salmon are being raised in hatcheries. Once they mature, theplan was to putthem into local rivers and hopefully spawn more offspring. But without a permit, all the fish eggs, which are set to hatch in two weeks, could be thrown away.

This is actually the second time that the feds have denied a permit to the project and now advocates face uncertainty.

“We need to know which direction to turn in. Do we kill all the fish? Is there certain ones allowed to go out?” asked Mark Hambrook, president of the Miramichi Salmon Association. “We need clarity."

In a statement to CTV Atlantic, the DFO said that it had to consider the benefits and risks of this type of scientific experiment but advocates say they’ve met them already.

Last year, the federal government said it had denied their permit, pending a scientific review. But despite the review being completed earlier this year, the permit still wasn’t granted.

Various people and groups who depend on the fish returning to the Miramichi River were deeply concerned.

Evelock Gilks, manager of the Miramichi Salmon Club, a private fishing lodge in Doaktown, N.B., said they’d had more cancellations of memberships in the last two years than it had in the last 25.

The owner of the lodge, Caroline Taylor, said “we need this to keep our industry growing, to keep employment up in rural areas, for the tax base of the villages."

The list of concerned citizens also includes students at University of New Brunswick who are in the middle of writing their thesis.

“We've got a gentleman who came from Illinois who came to carry his master’s thesis in good faith and the idea was to compare wild Atlantic salmon to the performance of the bass fish,” said Tommi Linnansaari, UNB associate professor.

With a report from CTV Atlantic’s Kate Walker