Rocky River Salmon in Dire Straits


Rocky River salmon in dire straits

Paul Smith
Published on August 29, 2015

Our journey across Newfoundland and up the majestic Great Northern Peninsula kept getting delayed for one reason or another. First there was a nasty cold and cough caught from our granddaughter. Then I had a dental appointment that couldnít be rescheduled. I was way overdue for my cleaning. I missed the last one while chasing sea trout in South America. I love fishing but Iíd also like to keep my chompers intact.

Anyway, as I was writing this last week, we were packing up the car and will be pulling out of Spaniardís Bay tomorrow morning. It will be relatively late-season salmon angling.

Salmon have been in the news over the past few days. Iím betting youíve heard about the 450 salmon trapped with no route to their spawning grounds on Rocky River. Itís been all over various media.

Briefly, DFO is installing a new $1.3-million fish ladder and the old ladder has been removed while contractors are building the new structure. Conservation groups are pointing fingers at DFO, accusing them of extremely poor planning and breaking their own rules. Before any construction project, big or small, plans must be made and action must be taken to ensure fish have an unhindered passage. This includes both trout and salmon. That is the law.

The Rocky River story even got coverage in the pages of the Winnipeg Free Press, thousands of miles west of St. Maryís Bay. And the plight of these salmon has brought together folks in the salmon world who are often at odds about stuff like hook and release and retention limits.

Don Ivany, Newfoundland and Labradorís director for the Atlantic Salmon Federation, has been loud and clear on their position. A few days ago I heard Rick Bouzan speaking on behalf of the Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Federation on one of the VOCM talk shows. As you would expect, he expressed grave concerns for the salmon and condemned DFO for their handling of the situation.

To be fair to DFO, they are now doing their best to move all the trapped salmon above the falls. They have committed significant resources to this problem. The situation is very serious. This population of fish in Rocky River has taken decades and significant human and monetary resources to establish. If these trapped fish donít manage to get upriver to their spawning grounds, the entire Rocky River run of salmon could be wiped out. That would be a terrible thing; building a new state-of-the-art fishway ends up destroying the stock of fish that it was put in place to enhance.

By the time this goes to print, I hope this whole messy problem is solved and the salmon are somewhere far upriver from the fishway and falls.

I had a chat and email exchange with some communications folks at DFO last week. They had no hesitation in sending me information and talking to me. They say that they had a plan in place to get the salmon upriver but it has been foiled due to unexpected environmental conditions. DFO is monitoring the process closely as local fishers and contractors try to catch the fish and transport them upriver. Tidal action and low warm water levels above the falls are to blame for their lack of success, according to DFO. But they remain optimistic, stating that they have until October to get the salmon upriver.

The fear is that low and warm water will overstress and maybe even kill the fish long before October. Salmon need cool, well-oxygenated water and sufficient depth to avoid predation. As August rolls into September, this could be a real problem depending on the weather. And if DFO fails to transport the salmon upriver and the new fishway falls behind schedule, well the result is obvious.

For heavenís sake, letís keep a close eye on this situation and not allow any poaching to occur. This would be the most despicable of acts, to take advantage of this circumstance for your own selfish gain. I hope no Newfoundlander will stoop to such a low.


Paul Smith, a native of Spaniardís Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com  or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock