How many salmon get caught and re­leased, any­way?

The Beacon (Gander) - - Editorial -

While there have been many di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed ar­gu­ments aired re­gard­ing the recre­ational salmon fish­ery in the past months, some facts can be agreed upon by both sides.

First, while the 2017 salmon re­turn was nowhere as dis­as­trous as DFO pro­claimed from the early counts, there was last year a se­ri­ous de­cline in the num­ber of fish re­turn­ing to N.L. rivers.

Sec­ond, it is gen­er­ally agreed that the ma­jor causes of this de­cline orig­i­nate in the salt wa­ter, whether they be the com­mer­cial fish­ing of salmon, the pre­da­tion of the out-of-con­trol seal pop­u­la­tion, or en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors, or a com­bi­na­tion of all of these.

DFO ob­vi­ously has no abil­ity to in­flu­ence or con­trol what hap­pens in the ocean, so they tar­get the small­est el­e­ment in the de­cline of salmon, the N.L. an­gler who be­lieves in catch and re­ten­tion.

But, how many salmon are ac­tu­ally saved by the wide scale pres­ence of an­glers?

How much of the re­ten­tion­fish­er­man’s kill is bal­anced by those saved from the nets of poach­ers, who in a sin­gle night can de­stroy more fish than sev­eral an­glers for a whole sea­son?

It is im­pos­si­ble, of course, to put num­bers on such an es­ti­mate, but re­cent his­tory would in­di­cate that large num­bers of re­ten­tion an­glers have a ma­jor de­ter­rent ef­fect on poach­ing while the much smaller num­bers of catch-and-re­lease an­glers have lit­tle or no ef­fect.

When DFO in­sti­tuted its well-in­ten­tioned but to­tally mis­guided pol­icy of catch and re­lease only for four (?) years (I am not sure of the spe­cific num­ber or which years), the smaller rivers of St. Ge­orge’s Bay were vir­tu­ally de­stroyed. Only with the re-in­sti­tu­tion of catch and re­tain did these rivers come back. Sheer co­in­ci­dence? Not likely.

A fur­ther fact ac­cepted by both sides is that catch and re­lease will kill some salmon.

The ac­tual num­bers will be dis­puted, but some salmon will die.

How then can a lead­ing fig­ure of the Atlantic Salmon Fed­er­a­tion (ASF) make his of­ten quoted state­ment (and I para­phrase) “not an­other Atlantic salmon should be killed,” when the ASF, and sim­i­lar vested in­ter­est groups, vig­or­ously pro­mote catch and re­lease, which ev­ery fish­er­man knows will kill some fish.

As well, do we re­ally have any idea of how many salmon are caught and re­leased in a given year? Do an­gler re­turns ac­tu­ally re­flect real num­bers?

I have been re­peat­edly told that many catch-and-re­lease an­glers fre­quently ex­ceed the le­gal limit of four per day. Now, these state­ments could well be dirty lies told by the N.L. catch-and-re­tain an­gler who wants to keep his le­gal limit, to blacken the good name of those purists who are on the river only for the art of the cast and the aes­thet­ics of this no­ble sport of gen­tle­men an­glers.

How­ever, I can at­test I have seen sev­eral in­stances of catch-and-re­lease lim­its be­ing ex­ceeded on Cabin Pool on the Hum­ber River, once count­ing up to eight re­leased.

Re­ports come back from Labrador of an­glers striv­ing to re­lease 20 fish per day.

I have no fac­tual ev­i­dence of this, only hearsay.

But, imag­ine a gen­tle­man from Maine or New Brunswick, who has spent thou­sands of dol­lars to fish for a week at a lodge in Labrador. If the fish are tak­ing and if he is any good at all, he will have re­leased his four fish by, say, noon.

Will he then sit on the bank for the rest of the day, watch­ing the salmon jump and wish­ing he could go out for a flick, or will hu­man na­ture pre­vail? What do you think?

I am ab­so­lutely cer­tain that catch-and-re­lease an­glers as a whole are as law-abid­ing as the av­er­age catch-and-re­tain an­gler.

But isn’t this cu­ri­ous? DFO has never laid a charge (and I stand to be cor­rected) of too many fish be­ing re­leased.

If DFO, ig­nor­ing what that pol­icy did to the rivers of Bay St. Ge­orge, de­cides to in­sti­tute catch and re­lease only for the 2018 sea­son, ac­tion must be taken.

I do not es­pouse some of the more rad­i­cal ac­tions sug­gested by some mem­bers of CORA, but a protest must be made. I sug­gest that on one given day, or a se­ries of given days, ev­ery sin­gle catch-an­dretain an­gler in N.L. go fish­ing catch and re­lease.

Take along your phone. Film your favourite stretch of river as a sou­venir for your chil­dren, a me­mento of those won­der­ful days when a grand­fa­ther could take his 10-year-old grand­son or grand­daugh­ter fish­ing and proudly bring home a spec­i­men of the finest fish in the uni­verse.

If other ha­bit­ual catch-an­drelease an­glers just hap­pen to be in the frame, do a close-up. If ex­cess fish are caught and re­leased, it is doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence of a crim­i­nal act.

Yours in fish­ing,

Jim Feltham Deer Lake

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