Happy poachers and layoffs

Paul Smith
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A few years back on a lovely, warm July morning, I paddled my canoe towards the shoreline of Gull Pond on New Harbour Barrens.

I’d been fishing since daylight and had managed to capture a fine creel of plump brook trout.

My plan was to arrive home by noon and sizzle those beauties golden brown in a deep cast iron skillet. Goldie and I would feast on freshly caught trout and homemade bread, loaves that she had mixed and baked while I’d been floating around casting hand-tied flies.

I think I had the best job that morning, but my wife does enjoy baking bread. And I love eating it.

I noticed a truck parked beside mine on the high bank above the pond. I wondered who it could be. With each stroke of the paddle, the distance between us closed and finally I could see that these were men in uniform. Now that’s a novel occurrence, I thought — federal fisheries officers waiting to check my basket of trout.

I had a grand total of eight trout, just enough for lunch, so I had nothing to fear. Closer still, I could make out the insignia on the pickup’s door. This was a provincial government vehicle. What would wildlife officers want with me today? I obviously wasn’t poaching moose or illegally shooting ducks. Oh well, I’d soon find out.

Two very friendly men greeted me as my canoe kissed the rocks. One was kind enough to hold my canoe while I delicately manoeuvred myself from stern to stem. Gull Pond descends deep only about half a dozen feet from shore but my canoe is 16 feet. I had to move forward without tipping over, which I usually manage by distributing my weight with a paddle across the gunwales.

This guy knew of canoeing. He held the bow between his knees to steady the boat for me, just like I’d learned in canoeing school as a kid. I immediately take a liking to people who can paddle and find their way around a canoe. I greatly respected Pierre Trudeau. His very competent J-stroke most certainly evolved over many hours afloat in the wilderness.

The gentlemen told me they were Inland Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Officers, and were doing a routine patrol to see if anyone was overfishing or otherwise breaking the rules. Mostly they were just making their presence known to discourage poachers. I thought that was just great and I showed then my trout.

“Nice trout,” commented the guy who knew about canoes, and we struck up a conversation. I ended up late for lunch chatting about conservation, trout, salmon and fly fishing. Goldie was understandably a bit upset, having to wait an extra hour for crispy golden trout, but that’s what happens when people meet who are on the same fishing page. These guys, dedicated provincial employees, really cared about trout stocks and took their duty quite seriously.

Although DFO is ultimately responsible for trout stewardship, I had never ever before, in 40 years of trouping, had my creel checked by enforcement officers. I’ve been inspected while salmon fishing and even seatrout fishing on a couple of occasions, but never while angling for mud trout in the country. Either DFO doesn’t care about brook trout or have their resources spread far too thin to be effective.

Having said that, I personally know several DFO officers who are very dedicated trout anglers and do what they can to stop poaching. Likely, they are just too busy with salmon rivers, and must prioritize their time in a working environment that doesn’t necessarily share their passion for mud trout.


Inland Fish Enforcement was established in 2004 by the Provincial Government in response to serious concerns of conservation groups and recreational anglers that illegal poaching was ruining salmon and trout stocks. Since then, the Provincial Government has invested over $12 million to protect these valuable resources. Inland Fish Enforcement will continue to work with conservation and community groups across the province to preserve trout and salmon stocks.


The above quote is from a Justice Department news release dated June 1, 2010.  It goes on to say: “This season’s operations will build upon a successful 2009 campaign which saw officers lay 283 charges against 96 individuals, seize 18 illegal nets, 88 Atlantic salmon, nine boats, four vehicles and a variety of fishing-related equipment. Fines related to these violations exceeded $89,000.

As well, courts have imposed significant prohibitions on individuals, including restrictions from fishing or holding a recreational fishing licence, and from being at or near Canadian fishing waters for up to five years.”

This is the work of the fine gentleman and their colleagues that I met in my canoe on Gull Pond. After this year’s budget, they could very well be without a job.

On paper, there were 72 inland fish and wildlife officers working diligently in our province. I say on paper because there were a number of positions left vacant due to a two-year hiring freeze. The budget eliminated 22 further positions.

To my knowledge, there are now a total of 22 officers for the entire province of Newfoundland and Labrador. There are 14 officers for the whole island and eight for all of Labrador, and it isn’t dubbed the Big Land for nothing.

How can so few be effective?

I think our government is backpedaling on taking initiative and responsibility for our trout and salmon stocks. I am aware the federal government is responsible, but they aren’t doing near enough.

In 2004, we took control of our own destiny. Now we are backing off and leaving it all once again to the feds.

I’m not sure about everyone else in this province, but I don’t mind seeing some public funds wisely spent on preserving our fish and wildlife resources. In economic terms, many millions are returned to the coffers by visiting anglers and hunters. They won’t come if there are no fish to catch.

In addition, we spend significant dollars on travel, fees and gear in the pursuit of our passion for angling and hunting. All of this contributes to the economy. There is no way that these kinds of cuts will not have a negative impact.

The despicable bad guys who illegally net and jig our salmon and trout are grinning joyfully and rubbing their hands in anticipation of the 2013 poaching season.

It’s time for us outdoor folk to contact and put some pressure on our elected representatives. I think we need more leaders who paddle canoes.

Before I sign off for this week I’d encourage duck hunters to check out the upcoming 75th Anniversary Ducks Unlimited Charity Event and Auction taking place at the Yellowbelly Pub, George Street on Friday May 3. Tickets are available at www.ducks.ca.


Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and

wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com.

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Recent comments

  • doug
    May 01, 2013 - 14:06

    The government could have 500,000 wildlife officers and poaching would still be a problem here(central), it seems to me there is a perception that if no one is around to see it then it didn't happen. EDUCATION is the key here, the reason I do not poach has nothing to do with it being illegal, it has to do with morals and sustainability.

  • O McMahon
    April 27, 2013 - 21:26

    I've spent the last number of years witnessing the changes that Inland has made with regards to poaching here in NL. These officers were some real no nonsense fellows who pretty much had curbed poaching by laying down some nasty fines. What they needed to be commended for was patrolling coastal waters and curbing poaching here. The results of all of this has been increased returns to rivers. Poaching has been down in NL. The new salmon tags coupled with enforcement made NL rivers pretty much fun places to fish. Anglers have smartened up and become well behaved all because of the efforts Inland and yet the provincial govt here doesn't seem to understand the unpredictable consequences of removing enforcement off the rivers here. One can't be sure of what will happen but it seems a safe bet that poaching will surely be on the upswing here in all forms. It's back to untagged fish, passing the rod, excessive catch and release and everything else that made angling unpleasant on some rivers. Thet'll be nets in coastal waters and fish for sale. There'll be no enforcement and diminshed returns for years to come. So much for a world class salmon fishery here in NL.

  • david
    April 27, 2013 - 13:11

    If you thin there's any empirical correlation between acts of poaching and the money spent on monitoring in this province, you clearly don't appreciate the intense local "zeal"....nay, the genetic urges.... for poaching, for getting-it-before-someone-else-does mentality here. And fighting it harder is more likely to get someone killed than it is to reduce poaching. There ain't enough money on Earth, there's other things we need worse, and there's not much anything worthy of saving anyway. T'is what t'is.