Time for political action on trout

Paul Smith
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It speaks for snow tonight. If you are from the Great Northern Peninsula, you likely know exactly what that local colloquialism means and have probably heard that expressive way of conveying the weather forecast many times in casual conversation.

The “it” refers to the all-knowing meteorologists of the world.

I love it; picked it up through many weeks of salmon fishing around the Plum Point area. Frank Samson, my old angling mentor, educated me that way all the time. “Paul, b’y, it speaks for strong westerly wind this evening. Should be good fishing, but it’s going to be rough on the pond. We best take the big fibreglass boat.”

He’d be talking about fishing St. Genevieve River in the area below where it flows out of Ten Mile Lake, The Dam, Clark’s Point, Mayor’s Hole, and so on. The boat ride to the river’s outflow could be quite exciting in a brisk wind.

I am definitely not jesting. I wouldn’t joke about snow in May; the weather experts are forecasting a significant accumulation of snow for tonight. Over the weekend, during a brief sunny period, in a sunshine-break-through-the-clouds-induced hysteria, I relegated my ATV plow to summer storage.

Will this winter ever end? By the time you read this, I pray there will be double-digit temperatures in our 10-day forecast, and you will know if the speaking for snow actually materialized into sputtering snowblowers and sore backs. I hope not.

Anglers appalled

The present weather is not entirely conducive to trout fishing, but that didn’t stop people from emailing me about last week’s column. I wrote about brook trout fishing’s spring closure, and the lack of research that’s being done on our trout fisheries.

It is 100 per cent true, and DFO will confess  that they do zero research on brook trout, speckled trout, or mud trout as they are quite commonly known to us Newfoundlanders.

Anglers writing me are appalled that the federal government department that is solely responsible and charged with protecting and nurturing our trout stocks devote nothing to research. In addition, there is close to zero enforcement of the rules and regulatory regime, which are themselves based on gut feelings, anecdotal evidence and the whims of people with influence.

I know these are strong words, but the situation is outrageous. I have travelled extensively and read voraciously about fishing for many years and I have never encountered a management situation so ridiculous. I am happy to know from the emails filling my inbox that many share my sentiments.

It is useless to complain to the folks at DFO. It is not their fault. They do the best they can with the money and resources allotted to them by the Canadian government. The only way to catalyze change is to become vocal and involved politically. I think that only a political lobby can reverse this trout management dilemma.

Why don’t we make this an issue in upcoming elections, both federal and provincial? We must put pressure on those who have the power to change things. Either money must be provided to DFO to manage our inland waters and trout stocks properly or, barring that, transfer the authority to our provincial government. Many folks who emailed prefer the latter option.

Last week I questioned whether trout stocks are up or down compared to past years, say, 10 years ago or so.

I got about a 50/50 split from folks who took the time to email me.

There’s a school of thought amongst some well-seasoned and capable anglers that stocks are up because there are far fewer people trouting. I tend to agree, at least as it pertains to my neck of the woods. The digital and hundred-channel world has tempted kids away from traditional outdoor activities.

Don’t get me wrong — there are lots of exceptions. One of my regular hunting and fishing buddies, Cameron Gosse, is only 25 years old and he gets himself out there. But by and large there are fewer kids fishing and tramping around the woods, so there’s less pressure on the trout biomass.

Then again, we can only speculate on why numbers are up, if indeed they are. There’s no solid science on the subject. Some folks think the spring closure is a good thing and that’s the reason that trout stocks are up. A few think that anglers have a better or more conservative attitude and kill fewer fish.

Some even release all they catch or retain just a few for a scattered meal. That’s me. When I go trouting I keep just enough for one meal; there’s no freezing and stockpiling trout for me. That’s my way of evoking my own personal conservation regime.

Folks who agree with the provincial research that I quoted last week, that says the trout stocks are suffering, attributed the decline mostly to lack of enforcement. It’s a common theme and they are right. There is negligible enforcement of trouting regulations.

I have been checked once, in a lifetime spent trouting. That was this winter on a pond about 10 kilometres from the nearest road. Two DFO enforcement officers drove up to us on snowmobiles. Considering all the days I’ve spent fishing near the road in lovely summer weather, isn’t that strange?

Most trouters have never been checked by DFO officers, the officials who are charged with setting and enforcing the rules. Again, like the science issue, it’s not their fault: resources are too scarce and there are so many salmon rivers to protect and patrol. I guess that’s why we got checked in winter. Salmon is the priority for scarce resources. We need to aim our frustrations at our elected officials. It’s the only way.

One lifelong trouter from Conception Bay Centre suggested that an obvious increase in merganser populations might be negatively affecting trout numbers. Mergansers definitely eat trout. It is certainly worth looking into. On the other hand, fish and ducks have survived together for eons.

An apparently very dedicated and progressive fisher suggested to me that we all should be using barbless hooks for trouting. At present, the law requires barbless hooks only on scheduled salmon rivers — that’s all rivers besides Northwest River in Terra Nova Park. That’s another story.

The suggestion is that barbed hooks kill trout that we might be attempting to release. This is true and I agree. Even purely subsistence anglers must release the tiny fish that bite their hooks.

There are lots of issues to ponder, but I’m confident we can all agree that better management of our trout stocks is essential. It doesn’t matter if trout numbers are up or down — although we don’t really know.

Either way, we need to properly manage a resource that is so near and dear to so many of us. Let’s make our voices heard both before and during the upcoming elections.

 Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity.

He can be contacted at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com

or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock.

Organizations: DFO

Geographic location: Plum Point, Genevieve River, Terra Nova Park

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Recent comments

  • hahaha
    May 11, 2014 - 19:35

    so you think DFO don't get enough of our tax dollars to look after our trout stocks.. they have a pretty healthy budget for looking after our cod stocks and they did a "really good " job on that. NOT!!

  • Kingsfishers Unite
    May 11, 2014 - 12:08

    Maybe it can't manage ANY stocks as well as it can manage the weather? When trout ponds are up for grabs as tailings dumps, It feels like Sherrif of Nothingham days when contrasted with strict enforcement in a political-economic climate that has Environmental Officers afraid to Broach mining effluent in A Bay, and people going deep in the hole on a poached salmon, or smuggled tobacco from first nations.

  • Petertwo
    May 11, 2014 - 10:58

    So, I guess the question is why do we rely on the DFO ? If they bring in regulations we would follow them, well most of us anyway, what is wrong with being self regulating? From your article today Paul I sense we are already being sensitive about the stocks. Probably the main area would be the unscheduled rivers. I think the ponds are not in too bad a shape and the scheduled rivers are fairly well regulated. A size limit has always been succesful in increasing the size of the trout. rainbows and landlocked salmon have a size limit why not the brook trout? I would like to see treble hooks banned on those river. I have caught trout on a fly with lips torn off and once one that had no bottom jaw, and some with chunks out of their sides. Change the trebles to singles, and have only barbless as well. Going to fly only may be a bit radical at this point in time, but it is something that could be worked towards eventually. Being individually self regulating everyone would equally benefit, naturally there are those who want what they want, but they seem to be dwindling as more and more become more conservation aware. I think you are doing great bringing this up as it has needed to be addressed for some time.

  • Rodney Bolt
    May 11, 2014 - 08:11

    I agree with Paul 100%. Also, I think that there should be a size limit on trout also.The little things cant even get a chance to grow.Especially on the Avalon.The government should use our tax payers money to restock the our Newfoundland ponds.With strictly enforced rules and high fines then maybe we can save our inland recreational fishery.