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LETTER: Minister must conduct in-season review of Atlantic salmon stocks before allowing retention

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has released an interim management approach for Atlantic Salmon in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has released an interim management approach for Atlantic Salmon in Newfoundland and Labrador. - SaltWire File Photo

I have been salmon angling for over 60 years. Sadly, during this time I have witnessed drastic declines of wild Atlantic salmon.

When I started angling in the mid 1950s anglers were permitted to retain eight salmon a day. Yes, a day!

Two years ago it was limited to one per season and the past two years all salmon rivers in this province were closed mid -season to retention fishing because of low abundance.

Mid-summer last year, DFO scientist G. Veniott stated the following in reference to wild salmon stocks on the island:

“The in-season review showed clearly that the stocks are continuing to be in some trouble. We are seeing declines on almost all of our rivers relative to the 2011-2015 timeframe. If you keep seeing declines beneath your recent five-year mean, you'll eventually have no fish. It's as simple as that. The greatest reduction in mortality would be realized under a catch and release only fishery… stop harvesting them, because every fish that's removed is a fish that is not available to spawn.”

As a result then-Fisheries Minister LeBlanc wisely accepted Veniott’s scientific advice and closed salmon rivers to retention angling on the Island and after a review of Labrador stocks in Labrador as well.

The 2019 NL Integrated Fisheries Management Plan for Atlantic Salmon (IFMP) allows a retention fishery at opening date June 1. To make matters worse it is my understanding that all angler groups (SAEN, SPAWN, SCNL, CORA, ERMA, FABEC, ASF etc.) are advocating for the retention of salmon prior to the annual in-season review of stocks.

Knowing salmon stocks are in trouble, why would anyone support the killing of 5,000, 10,000, 15,000 or more salmon early in the 2019 season without first conducting an in-season scientific review of abundance?

It seems no-one cares for the long term health of our salmon stocks and all are bent on killing as many salmon as possible for short term needs.

It will be very easy for Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson to accept recommendations from these anglers and allow the killing of more salmon because in their short sightedness, they recommended this to him. However, the Ministers responsibility goes much deeper than listening to and appeasing todays anglers. It is his responsibility to follow DFO’s Precautionary Approach Policy which states “Fisheries management is about being cautious when scientific knowledge is uncertain and not using the absence of adequate scientific information as a reason to postpone or fail to take action to avoid serious harm to fish stocks or their ecosystems.” Scientific knowledge on 2019 salmon returns will only be known after an in-season review is complete.

Before making a decision, the minister must keep in mind Veniott’s comment: “If you keep seeing declines beneath your recent five-year mean, you'll eventually have no fish. It's as simple as that.” We will only know if stocks can withstand a KILL in 2019 after an in-season review is complete.

It would be totally irresponsible for the minister to open the season allowing more salmon to be killed prior to a scientific in-season review. It would also be a neglect of his duty and responsibility; in contravention to the Fisheries Act and DFO’s Wild Atlantic Salmon Policy; and DFO’s Precautional Approach Policy.

The minister must change the IFMP and open the season with a no-kill catch-and-release policy at the beginning of the season.

If the in-season review demonstrates an abundance of salmon, then and only then should he consider a restricted kill.

Donald Hustins

Angler, conservationist and author

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