Count­ing sal­mon

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - EDITORIAL -

Where did they go? And why? Sal­mon num­bers aren’t just shrink­ing this year, it’s like the fish are dis­ap­pear­ing. The num­bers are so low that the fed­eral Department of Fish­eries and Oceans has closed all sal­mon rivers on the is­land to ev­ery­thing ex­cept catch and re­lease an­gling, and in some ar­eas, like Gros Morne Na­tional Park, all sal­mon fish­ing has been halted.

It’s pretty de­ci­sive ac­tion, but it’s jus­ti­fied when you look at the whole pic­ture.

This will be a lit­tle heavy on num­bers, but bear with us.

Look­ing across DFO’s count­ing fa­cil­i­ties on is­land rivers, only one river, the Gar­nish, has seen more sal­mon this year than last. So far, the Gar­nish fa­cil­ity has counted 371 sal­mon, com­pared to 209 at this time last year. (Num­bers are from Aug. 6 in 2016 and 2017.)

For other rivers, the num­ber has ei­ther fallen, or fallen off a cliff. With the 2016 num­bers first, the Ex­ploits has gone from 22,536 sal­mon to 14,348; the Camp­bell­ton, down from 2,757 to 1,283. Sal­mon Brook? From 878 to 144. The Terra Nova River has seen re­turns es­sen­tially cut by half, drop­ping from 5,234 to 2,673. The North­east River in Pla­cen­tia? Also halved, from 786 down to 315. Conne River? What was 1,230 fish last year is just 709 this year.

And keep in mind: 2016 was not that great a year ei­ther.

Us­ing past years in­for­ma­tion, DFO fore­casts that to­tal re­turns for the year will fall by a dra­matic amount: by 60 per cent on the Ex­ploits, and by more than 60 per cent on at least eight other rivers, with at least two show­ing 80 per cent to 90 per cent de­clines.

The “why” is a lit­tle more com­pli­cated. Sal­mon re­turn­ing num­bers are tra­di­tion­ally lower in years with heavy or late ice cover, and part of the prov­ince cer­tainly had that. But the num­bers are far down into ranges not seen since the com­mer­cial sal­mon mora­to­rium was put in place.

DFO’s mid-sea­son sci­ence re­view was stark — not only to stop re­ten­tion fish­ing, but to stop it un­til things get bet­ter. “Based on the ex­pected wide­spread de­clines in to­tal re­turns of adult At­lantic sal­mon in the N.L. re­gion for the past two years, it is the rec­om­men­da­tion of sci­ence that all rivers on the is­land be closed to re­ten­tion an­gling un­til there is ev­i­dence of im­proved re­turns.”

That will keep an es­ti­mated 30,000 sal­mon in rivers, and keep enough anglers on the rivers to be the eyes and ears needed to de­ter poach­ers.

It may soon be time for an even more dras­tic so­lu­tion; if num­bers don’t im­prove, it’s go­ing to be hard to make a case even for hook-and-re­lease an­gling.

It’s close to the point that ev­ery spawner has to have ev­ery sin­gle pos­si­bil­ity for suc­cess.

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