Federal Scientists Find NL Salmon in Steep Decline


Federal scientists find N.L. Atlantic salmon population in steep decline

The Canadian Press

July 18, 2018

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. A federal Fisheries scientist has recommended ending the Atlantic salmon fishery for the rest of the season in Newfoundland and Labrador rivers after returns indicated the struggling species continues a worrisome decline.

In comparing the current season's returns to previous averages, scientists found that 55 per cent of the province's rivers will likely have lower salmon returns than the average from 2011 through 2015.

While some rivers have healthier populations than others, findings indicate salmon populations in all rivers are in decline compared to numbers from 2011 to 2015.

Research scientist Geoff Veinott said the long-term trend suggests that provincial salmon stocks are in trouble.

"Really, we haven't seen much recovery at all," Veinott said Wednesday.

The province's salmon population has seen unprecedented declines over the last few years, with 2017 being the worst year on record due to 30 per cent decreases in returns in 80 per cent of the province's rivers.

Veinott said scientists were surprised to see such a large decline immediately following similarly low numbers in 2016.

"We are somewhat concerned. Obviously declines of this magnitude can't continue forever," Veinott said.

"If you keep seeing declines beneath your recent five-year mean, you'll eventually have no fish. It's as simple as that."

This new review of the population closely follows a June report from the Atlantic Salmon Federation that found a 45 per cent decrease in Newfoundland and Labrador's salmon population since 2015.

In addition to a possible end of the salmon retention fishery, Fisheries scientists are also recommending continuing with catch-and-release as long as river temperatures remain lower than 18 C.

Federal guidelines earlier this spring capped the retention limit at one salmon per angler, and a three-fish-per-day limit for catch-and-release angling.

Fisheries officials are expected to make a decision on federal catch limits for the rest of the summer by Friday.

Provincial Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne has expressed dissatisfaction with the federal Department of Fisheries' management decision on catch-and-release limits. Byrne has also criticized the department's management of this year's salmon season.

The province for the first time this year set its own catch-and-release limits, allowing 10 fish per angler before the mid-season review on July 20. The province says its first-ever limit is intended to preserve more fish.

The provincial Fisheries Department is doing its own study on the impact of catch-and-release angling on the local salmon population, while also carrying out research this year and in 2019.

A press release issued Wednesday said the study hopes to "address gaps in scientific information on hook and release" and "provide clear, science-based management recommendations for the implementation of this activity."

"My department is committed to ensuring Newfoundland and Labrador's important salmon resource is managed using the best science available and upholding anglers' established values of conservation," Byrne said in the statement.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press