How many salmon get caught and released, anyway?
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