Angling for a solution

THE TELEGRAM - Editorial

Editorial: Angling for a solution

Published: May 9, 2018

It’s a compromise that will likely please no one.

Late Monday, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced the rules for the upcoming recreational salmon fishery. Anglers will be allowed to catch and keep one fish this season — at least until a mid-season review of the fishery — and will be allowed to catch and release three salmon a day. No salmon caught in unscheduled waters can be kept.

So, a sharply reduced fishery, but still a fishery.

Last year, anglers could keep as many as six salmon, depending on the rivers being fished. The daily catch-and-release limit was four fish, and anglers with salmon licences were allowed to keep salmon caught in unscheduled waters.

It is a form of middle ground. There was such a sharp reduction in the number of returning salmon on rivers where DFO counts fish that there was considerable pressure to cancel the retention fishery outright. If there was ever a time for a pause in fishing, you could argue it’s right now.

Of course, you have to cue the regular complaints about government interfering with an imagined “birthright” to catch and keep salmon, regardless of the health of the stock.

The change this year comes after DFO took the unprecedented step of closing the retention fishery in August and allowing only catch and release for the rest of the season.

That came after the number of returning salmon dropped by more than 30 per cent last year — on top of a significant drop in 2016.

The causes simply aren’t clear. What we do know is that there are plenty of questions.

Salmon leave rivers and simply don’t return. Are they being caught or eaten by predators elsewhere? Are material changes in ocean temperature, salinity and acidity affecting the returns? Is interbreeding with escaped aquaculture fish lowering survivability? Are there heavier parasitic loads of things like sea lice on fish that swim near penstock aquaculture salmon or that interact with escaped aquaculture fish? Are outbreaks of diseases in farm-grown stocks spreading and affecting the wild stocks?

All this comes while some jurisdictions are getting out of ocean pen salmon farming, others are questioning the role of aquaculture in the spread of salmon diseases, and studies in this province show a broad presence of DNA from aquaculture fish in rivers on the island with wild salmon populations. This, while our provincial government is keen on getting financially involved in a huge salmon aquaculture project, and the provincial fisheries minister argues that more salmon should be caught and kept.

The solution won’t please anyone (it’s already angered umbrage-ready provincial Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne), but there’s a simple fact: salmon numbers are plunging, and we have to find out why, instead of arguing about who’s got a right to catch and keep the last salmon.