Serious off-season salmon stuff
Published on November 30, 2013
This is the last Saturday in November. Fall has drifted by so fast, seems like just yesterday we were calling out to rutting moose. Thatís done with for another year. If your freezer is empty and youíre still searching for a moose, you will have to go looking for them. By now theyíve lost all interest in mating calls.
In the context of the season, I have been writing about hunting and woods-related stuff. Last week I dealt with frozen boots, a far cry from July angling for Atlantic salmon.
But because there is so much going on in the salmon world right now, Iím compelled to switch gears and forget about the approaching snow and cold for at least one week or two.
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has identified Atlantic salmon swimming the rivers of Newfoundlandís south coast as having met the criteria to be listed as ďthreatenedĒ under Canadaís Species at Risk Act (SARA). This is very serious stuff and can have grave implications for us anglers, both for those who live in the area as well as folks who travel here to cast to the silver king.
The area in question includes all rivers from the southeast tip of the Avalon Peninsula, Cape Race, westward along the south coast of Newfoundland to Cape Ray. This is known in DFO literature as DU4. There are 58 scheduled salmon rivers amongst a total of 104 watersheds.
This is a huge area and includes rivers not only on the south coast but also the Burin Peninsula, Cape Shore and part of the Southern Shore. Thatís rivers flowing into Fortune Bay, Placentia Bay and St. Maryís Bay as well as all along the south coast.
Why these salmon and not other parts of Newfoundland and Labrador? The reasons stated in the documentation are recreational fisheries, illegal fishing (poaching), the commercial fishery in St-Pierre-Miquelon, ecological and genetic interactions with escaped domestic Atlantic salmon in a small part of the region, and poorly understood changes in marine ecosystems resulting in reduced survival during the marine phase of their life history.
OK, letís break this down into whatís specific to this geographic area. There are only two: salmon farming and the St-Pierre commercial harvest.
The French harvest is small from my reading, just 3,200 pounds in 2012. The only other factor is the south coast salmon farms.
Our government officials and the aquaculture industry experts have been assuring us for years that there is no threat to wild salmon from fish farming. Every time Iíve written on the subject, Iíve received emails telling me Iím fear-mongering and I donít have a clue what Iím talking about. Listen to the professionals, they say.
The problem is that the industry experts and both levels of government have a lot of money invested in aquaculture. They might not be too fussy about the whole truth becoming common knowledge. What are they saying now?
The threat from aquaculture on wild fish is real and two-pronged. We are told there is no evidence of negative effects here in Newfoundland. Thatís because there hasnít been any research done to find out. Those with the money donít want to know.
If there is no threat, why has it now been identified by COSEWIC? Because everywhere in the world that research has been carried out, a negative effect was identified. Both disease and escaped fish are the problems.
We all know about the rampant series of ISA outbreaks that have occurred over the past several years. Millions of dollarsí worth of fish have been destroyed and taxpayers have ponied up for compensation. Wild fish have to swim past sea cages full of infected fish. Common sense dictates that this is not good.
Do you know that upward of 750,000 farmed fish have escaped over the years and are now showing up in eight of our south coast salmon rivers? They can breed with wild fish and dilute the genetic profile of the riverís wild population. This can lead to drastic stock depletion. I think we now know the truth.
Would this SARA threatened species designation be a good thing if it goes through? On one hand it is, in the sense that it reveals the truth about the aquaculture industry on the south coast. But I am dead set against it. The hammer is way too big for the problem.
The area proposed is huge, and there are many rivers that are doing quite well. Under SARA rules, angling may be prohibited in all 58 salmon rivers, most of which are unjustified. We already have in place a system of river classification quite capable of dealing with the crisis in specific rivers. Those particular rivers can be closed to all angling, limited to hook and release only, or have retention quotas reduced.
The specific conservation needs of each river can be met by already exiting DFO regulations. There is no need of this huge SARA blanket coverage policy. And once put in place, it will be very difficult to remove.
The SARA process is not a done deal just yet and there is a consultation process. It is time for us to get involved. Online, go to http://www.nfl.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/NL/CC/Atlantic-Salmon-Consultation and you will find all the information you need. The process ends on Dec. 15, so get it done.
In addition to and related to all this SARA news, our own provincial government has given us just three measly weeks to submit our thoughts and feeling about aquaculture. A mere 21 days of electronic consultation began on Nov 25.
Salmon organizations have expressed concern about the rushed time frame. We are being expected to provide input on a major threat to biosecurity in southern Newfoundland, the open net pen aquaculture industry, with hardly any heads up, and Christmas approaching. But it is what it is, so put your shopping aside for a bit, and have your say on this one as well.
You know how I feel about salmon farming. Iíve written on it several times before.
There have been six separate outbreaks of ISA in the past 17 months along wild salmon migration routes to their natal rivers. Farmed fish have escaped open ocean cages and have mixed with wild salmon.
There has been $43 million paid out in compensation to the industry ó your tax dollars.
That said, Iím not against farming salmon in general. What I am adamantly and totally opposed to is raising salmon in open ocean cages. It has proved to be a disaster everywhere in the world that it has been tried.
Salmon farming needs to go land-based where there will be zero negative effect on the marine environment.
There will still be jobs for local people and fresh salmon on our supermarket shelves. It can be done. It is being done. Check out http://asf.ca/landbased-aquaculture.html.
I know what I will say in my electronic ten centsí worth. Government should impose a moratorium on any further expansion of the salmon aquaculture industry and carry out in-depth consultations and research towards putting the industry on land.
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniardís Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted