Serious off-season salmon stuff

Paul Smith
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This is the last Saturday in November. Fall has drifted by so fast, seems like just yesterday we were calling out to rutting moose. That’s done with for another year. If your freezer is empty and you’re still searching for a moose, you will have to go looking for them. By now they’ve 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, I’m 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 Newfoundland’s south coast as having met the criteria to be listed as “threatened” under Canada’s 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. That’s rivers flowing into Fortune Bay, Placentia Bay and St. Mary’s 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, let’s break this down into what’s 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 I’ve written on the subject, I’ve received emails telling me I’m fear-mongering and I don’t have a clue what I’m 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. That’s because there hasn’t been any research done to find out. Those with the money don’t 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 dollars’ 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 river’s 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 and you will find all the information you need. The process ends on Dec. 15, so get it done.


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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. I’ve 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 — your tax dollars.

That said, I’m 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

I know what I will say in my electronic ten cents’ 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 Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted


Organizations: Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Cape Race Cape Ray Fortune Bay Placentia Bay Southern Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Scott
    December 06, 2013 - 06:35

    What time to ask for input on such and important topic. Christmas ramping up and no one thinking about anything but what to buy for Christmas. It seems the most regulated fishery is getting squeezed by big business and government regulations on the need for aquaculture...and the need for jobs but no one talks about the tax payers money lost to disease and broken cages. The long term effects of these cages in sheltered bays near some 58 scheduled salmon rivers is not even thought of. Just like the Cod Fish...where foreign over fishing and large quotas much higher then the expected are released even when scientific findings say otherwise. Fish today don't have a chance with large nets the size of 3 foot ball fields and GPS tracking so they when they cover a area they make sure they get it all. No one even talks about Bi catch Shrimp fishery and how much waste there is per 5kg of shrimp caught. They people that pay are the people that respect it most. They people that go out and enjoy the rivers and report poaching and illegal fishing. Take these people off the rivers and see what happens. Not to mention the demand and strain on all the other rivers from people forced to fish else where. Their short falls make the common man pay again. They make such a big deal out of the Fly Fisherman while the foreign quotas, trawlers and aquaculture farms sit back rape the benefits. Destroyed our cod fishery..and make a mockery out of our Recreational fishery. Going out chasing the common man to see if he is one fish over or used the right sized hook. When just out 500 miles we have been raped and ravaged. Where the last 10 food recreation food fisheries wouldn't hold the candle to one 3 hour tow on a larger factory freezer. Newfoundlanders Right is to 3 kentle of Cod fish a year. That is old newfoundland law. If your born here it should be your god given right. This should be the same for the salmon fishery. Its time to punish the real problem and not the people of Newfoundland.

  • Brad
    December 04, 2013 - 19:12

    Well said Paul, its funny how the only rivers showing a decrease in returns (from median) is the Conne River (adjacent to the aquaculture industry on the South Coast) - look at any of the other DFO counting facility numbers and ALL indexed rivers are either holding there own or increasing - so what is the difference between these rivers, Conne is the only one in contact with open sea pens - you don't need alot of research to see the correlation! Cheers

    December 04, 2013 - 16:32

    As for St Pierre & Miquelon I just wonder where you got that figure of 3 200 lbs for a year's catch by french fishermen. Especially this year the catches have been very low.

    • Paul Smith
      December 06, 2013 - 08:09

      I got the figure on a CBC broadcast. I just checked it online and it seems about right. Check out theis NASCO document.

  • Bill Bryden
    December 04, 2013 - 15:42

    Hi Paul; Well written and researched. I call on every angler and conservationist to Act on the SARA call for input (and tell them the management unit is WAY too big). Do this for your children. Then, LIKE, and SHARE on social media, blogs, etc.

  • Bill Bryden
    December 04, 2013 - 15:41

    Hi Paul; Well written and researched. I call on every angler and conservationist to Act on the SARA call for input (and tell them the management unit is WAY too big). Do this for your children. Then, LIKE, and SHARE on social media, blogs, etc.

  • Bill Montevecchi
    November 30, 2013 - 10:08

    hi Paul Terrific column - you ring true like a voice of reason in world of spin, smoke + mirrors. It's really about ecosystem effects. Keep up the good work, Bill