GANDER, NL – With significant annual declines in the province’s Atlantic salmon stocks, MP Scott Simms says something needs to be done to rebuild Newfoundland and Labrador’s salmon population.
While stock rehabilitation means difficult decisions for federal Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Minister Dominic LeBlanc when it comes to finalizing the 2018 angling season, the Coast of Bays-Central-Notre Dame Bay MP hopes his decision will still allow for retention salmon angling in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Simms’ comments followed DFO’s March 5 stock assessment announcement, which indicated 80 per cent of the province’s 19 monitored rivers showed declines of more than 30 per cent compared to population averages over the last five to six years.
Related: Atlantic Stock assessment released
Some anglers are concerned the declines could lead to catch-and-release angling only on provincial rivers.
A side note to the assessment release indicated salmon mortality could be reduced by approximately 80 per cent through catch-and-release angling, while issuing only one tag for retention angling could reduce mortality by 50 to 60 per cent.
Growing up in Bishop’s Falls, Simms knows the cultural and tourism significance of salmon; while he supports catch-and-release angling as a last resort, he believes this measure would have a significant impact on both.
He hopes a reduced retention angling season can be an option.
“I want our tourism industry and our people who enjoy salmon fishing to be able to do this,” he said. “To (Newfoundlanders and Labradorians) it’s almost like a right as much as it is a privilege, so it becomes devastating if we are unable to retain our salmon.”
That’s the message he plans to bring to the fisheries minister.
“It’s no good for me to be Pollyanna about it, to try and be positive because it’s not a positive thing.”
One group to experience a shift to the catch-and-release format was the Miramichi Salmon Association in New Brunswick.
Once the largest salmon-producing river in the North America, the Miramichi River has been operating as a catch-and-release river for the past three years.
President Mark Hambrook says the conservation group believes in retention angling when there’s a surplus available, but not when the stock can’t sustain removing fish.
If stocks are low, “You can’t kill what’s left,” he said.
Adding, catch-and-release angling allowed sport fishing to continue and kept the rivers open; he’s dead set against closures.
“You send people off the river, you leave yourself open to poaching,” he said.
“It’s far better to have people on the river still participating in angling, even if there is a small mortality, to keep an industry going and keep people on the water.”
From a tourism perspective, Hambrook said the switch to catch and release didn’t make a noticeable difference for the outfitter tourism sector as out-of-province anglers still fished the river. But there was a significant drop in the number of residential licenses purchased.
“In the province of New Brunswick, residential salmon licenses dropped dramatically,” he said, noting nearly 40 per cent of the province’s approximately 20,000 anglers didn’t purchase a salmon license.
“But at the same time, the sale of cheaper trout licenses went up by about the same amount,” Hambrook said.
Trout licenses allow catch and release of salmon.
“So people still went fishing.”
Over three years without retention angling, the association has noticed some recovery in salmon stocks.
“We had our worst year in 2014, it came back in 2015, 2016 and 2017, but still not in the green zone and we are still struggling on a lot of rivers to meet the spawning requirement.”
However, he added, “Even though the numbers aren’t strong yet, there are some rivers that are showing a surplus.”
This surplus could soon lead to a return of retention angling to areas of the Miramichi, but from a conservation perspective, Hambrook says it has to be arranged in a way that isn’t counterproductive to the stock’s growth.