ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – The in-season review has been completed and scientists are recommending to end salmon angling retention for the remainder of the season in Newfoundland. Catch and release would remain in place.
The recommendation was made following the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) July 18 release of the 2018 in-season review for Atlantic Salmon in Newfoundland. Labrador salmon runs occur later in the year and will be subject to its own review.
According to predictions, highlighted in the report, 54 per cent of 11 accessed rivers are below its five-year average for the third year in a row. Twenty-seven per cent are predicted to show no significant change, with 18 per cent expected to have an increase.
For example, the Exploits River has final returns for 2018 predicted at 22,119 salmon, this would be 16 per cent lower than the five-year average for 2013-17, and 33 per cent lower than 2011-15 averages.
These results followed an historic low in 2017, in which 80 per cent of the rivers were in decline, with year-over-year declines of 30 per cent.
Dr. Geoff Veinott attributed the declines to sea survival. While production has been holding steady, juvenile mortality at sea is between 95-98 per cent.
The DFO scientist said it’s difficult to track what is happening at sea.
“We know it starts almost immediately…now the cause of mortality is very tricky, but we are doing some research in that area,” he said.
Veinott said part of the recovery process is to stop harvesting, as every fish removed takes a spawning salmon out the reproduction equation.
Catch and release
While the returns in 2017 were low, DFO had issued six retention tags for the season. However, the season was cut abruptly short, with DFO stating low water levels and warm temperatures being hazardous to salmon populations. As conditions improved the season was reopened to catch and release only.
For 2018, one salmon tag was issued to anglers, which had to be caught by July 20.
This year a number of rivers – central Newfoundland in particular – are exceeding 2017 returns and others are on par.
Veinott was asked about why 2017 had six tags issued, but with stronger numbers in 2018, the recommendation is to end retention angling.
“Yes, the returns in central are up compared to 2017, but 2017 was probably the worst year on record,” was his response. “Because of this natural variability we see from year-to-year we are more concerned about what’s happening within the five-year mean – 2013-2017, 2011-2015 – in those cases the central rivers aren’t doing any better than anywhere else.”
The recommendations view catch and release as permissible.
While he didn't dispute the stress that catch and release places on salmon, Veinott noted the practice has a low mortality rate and it keeps anglers on the river.
“The number of fish to be lost, it would be minimal, and we believe there is benefit to having anglers remaining engaged in the fishery,” he said.
But, as of right now (July 18) these are only recommendations. DFO will announce a final management decision before July 20.