Closing of NL Rivers About Protecting Salmon

July 18, 2012

Closing rivers all about protecting salmon
Gary Kean

ASF Editor's Note: Click here for List of Rivers Closed

2nd Note: Some rivers reopened this morning (July 18) in ZONE 13: 146.  Harry's River; 147.  Fox Island River & tributary streams; 148.  Sperpentine River & tributary streams; 150.  Humber River tributaries (including Adies Lake); 151.  Hughes Brook; 152.  Goose Arm River

CORNER BROOK Those responsible for enforcing the law on salmon rivers say they don't really change their approach much when rivers have been closed to angling because of environmental conditions.

Low water levels and subsequently warm water temperatures forced the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to close most rivers in western and central Newfoundland last week.

Those sort of conditions, which deplete the oxygen levels in the water, can stress Atlantic salmon trying to swim upstream to spawn. The mere act of an angler wading through the water and disturbing a pool where salmon have gathered only adds to the factors that can harm the mighty fish.

The fact salmon tend to gather in shallow pools until conditions are more conducive to continuing their reproductive journey, also makes them more susceptible to poachers.

"In situations like that, the fish are put in a vulnerable position," said Don Ivany of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

The protection of the resource falls primarily to DFO, the federal agency that makes the call whether or not rivers are open or closed to angling. Lloyd Slaney, DFO's chief of enforcement in Newfoundland and Labrador, said, for the most part, it's business as usual when rivers are closed for the group of fisheries officers and guardians employed by the federal agency.

"We have not diverted any resources to closed areas but, where we believe there salmon are vulnerable, we will spend more time, conduct more surveillance and carry out activities that way," said Slaney.

Likewise, inland fish and wildlife enforcement officers from the provincial Department of Justice have not changed their pattern of work much. That agency also concentrates its efforts where it considers fish to be in the most peril.

This year is unique, though, in that, there are still many salmon that have yet to enter the river systems. Instead, they have remained schooled up in bays and harbours awaiting the right time to head to the spawning grounds.

Sheldon Anstey, an inland fish and wildlife enforcement officer, said he and his colleagues are still concentrating on the threats of coastal netting by poachers.

"Normally, early in the season, we would do more coastal work," said Anstey. "Then, as they go inland, we will follow. This year, a lot of rivers are low and warm and a lot of fish aren't going into the rivers. They are staying out in the bays and harbours."

Anstey doesn't necessarily buy into the thought that closed rivers means more poaching.

"Some anglers think rivers should stay open because they can keep an eye on it and people won't poach when they are there," he said. "That's not always the case. We still have poaching in the nighttime when there are no anglers."

Poachers are likely to be more easily identified when rivers are closed because of the decreased activity, added Anstey.

Ivany and the atlantic federation would like to see DFO increase the resources it makes available to protect the salmon resource, but said it is great that the provincial government has made protecting Atlantic salmon a priority in recent years.

"Having that additional coverage out there at a time like this is a bit of a relief from our point of view," said Ivany.

In addition to the routine patrols and concentrating on the areas where fish are believed to be at risk, DFO makes daily observations of the river systems to assess whether or not angling can resume.

Late Tuesday, the federal agency issued an advisory that conditions had improved in some western Newfoundland rivers and that angling would re-open as of sunrise this morning. Those include, Fox Island River, Serpentine River, Humber River and their tributaries, including Adies Lake, as well as Hughes Brook and Goose Arm River.