Could NB's salmon retention ban be coming to the Rock?


Could N.B.'s salmon retention ban be coming to the Rock?

John Chilibeck

Aug. 3, 2017

The Atlantic Salmon Federation is calling on Ottawa to extend the ban that's already in place in New Brunswick on catching and keeping wild Atlantic salmon to Newfoundland and Labrador, citing plummeting numbers of the celebrated fish.

Spokesman Neville Crabbe said the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans should listen to its own scientists, who submitted a report July 12 after conducting a mid-season review. It said the retention recreational salmon fishery should be banned on all Newfoundland rivers.

"This year there will be very few rivers on the island of Newfoundland or in southern Labrador that will reach their conservation requirements," he said in an interview from the federation's headquarters in Chamcook, near Saint Andrews.

"We're in a situation where the fish that are being caught now and kept by recreational anglers are further exacerbating the downward trend. We're not in a situation of abundance."

Federal fisheries minister Dominic LeBlanc, who's also the Liberal MP for Beausejour in southeastern New Brunswick, did not immediately reply Wednesday for comment.

Unlike the scientists, who recommended a wait-and-see approach for Labrador, the federation is calling upon the government to also ban catch and keep salmon angling in that part of the province on all rivers south of the community of Cartwright, which has been suffering low returns for several years.

Depending on the river classification, recreational anglers in Newfoundland and Labrador can catch and retain between two and six salmon a year.

Anglers in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have been banned from catching and keeping wild salmon for three years straight. Anglers can still fish, but they have to put the salmon back in the water. Survival rates of these fish are generally good, about 96 per cent, according to scientific studies cited by the federation.

The move has angered some local anglers and outfitters, who say the real cause of salmon's demise is not the killing of grilse, younger fish that have spent only one winter at sea.

They blame other factors such as multi-sea winter fish being harvested by indigenous groups.

Scott Smith, a Nova Scotian who runs the Salmon Hole Lodge on the La Poile River in southwestern Newfoundland, wholeheartedly endorses a ban on retention.

Smith, whose father Duncan opened the lodge in the remote area some 50 years ago, said in an interview Wednesday the visitors he boats in from Port-aux-Basques, mostly from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, the New England states and Europe, are willing to put the fish back to conserve the resource.

But he fears too many Newfoundlanders will fight against the measure because they think fishing is their birthright.

He said there was quite the same tension between locals and outfitters who cater to visitors in Newfoundland as there are in New Brunswick, where riparian rights on some of the best stretches of water are controlled by private interests.

In Newfoundland, all rivers have public access, something he knows firsthand. On weekdays, his visitors put in six rods along the Lapoile. On weekends, locals do the same.

"The local guy wants to take a couple of salmon home for the barbecue," he said. "Native Newfoundlanders feel entitled to take home salmon and trout. So our biggest problem is that the vast majority of my customers catch and release everything already. But on the weekends, when I don't have customers there, the locals come in and they don't release anything."

The DFO report states that up to 30,000 salmon are killed in the recreational fishery of Newfoundland and Labrador each year, while an equal number are caught and released.

Smith said DFO should impose catch and release on all rivers for at least the next two years to see if the stocks will recover.

"Canada, through its recreational anglers and its aboriginal allocation, is killing a lot of salmon," he said. "That really ties the hands of the negotiators, like the people with the Atlantic Salmon Federation, because they go and meet with Greenlanders, where there's a commercial salmon fishery, and it's awfully hard for them to ask that country to stop fishing when we in Canada are killing more salmon than they are."

Scientists have criticized the Greenlandic catch because it is a mixed-stock fishery that doesn't discriminate between salmon that come from rivers in distress and others that are plentiful.

The big, multi-winter salmon, the ones that normally spawn, often end up on a dinner plate in the northern country.

The decision on the Newfoundland retention will likely be controversial, admitted Crabbe.

"It's fair to say it's an issue that divides the angling community," he said. "But if everybody can recognize there's an issue this year and everyone who's fishing can see that, they'll believe something has to be done. The alternative to live release would be total closure of rivers to recreational anglers, which no one wants."