A St. John's angler worries the province will be forced to adopt a catch and release policy, similar to what's in place in the Maritimes, unless government does something to address the draining salmon stocks.

Donald Hustins chronicled the history of the Atlantic salmon and the challenges the stocks face in his book, River of Dreams: The Evolution of  Fly-Fishing and Conservation of Atlantic Salmon in Newfoundland & Labrador

In an interview on CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show, Hustins said it's likely 2015 will not be a productive salmon season.

Donald Hustins

In his new book, Hustins says he doesn't want to dissuade people from angling. (Submitted by Tidespoint)

"Our stocks are really at historically low levels in this province right across the Atlantic region, and in Quebec for a number of reasons. Being that low, we're probably not going to get a huge rush of salmon. Two, three years ago, we had a little bump upwards, but I don't see anything like that again this year," he said.

Hustins said winter ice effects the migration of fish, and if there's a lot of ice around the coast, stocks will be delayed. Those delays aside, he said there are many factors which contribute to declining stocks. 

"Twenty, 30 years ago, the survival of the smolt going to the ocean to return as an adult salmon was 15 to 20 per cent," he said.

In the past five to 10 years, he said those numbers have plummeted below five per cent. 

"Unfortunately, no one really has an idea what is causing it. Is it predators in the ocean, is it something to do with the water temperature, or any number of other things," Hustins said.

Competing for catch

Hustins says he believes the salmon population is also stressed due to excessive kills in St. Pierre and Miquelon, Quebec and Greenland. 

"I'm convinced in my mind, but to prove it is another matter," he said. 

While there are no salmon rivers in St. Pierre and Miquelon, Hustins said the French islands were responsible for killing 3,000 salmon last year that were destined to rivers in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Greenland has an extensive mixed stock fishery, he said, meaning the fish often vary in size, species and geographic origin. Many of the province's larger fish — those weighing 10 to 20 pounds — go to Greenland to feed. 

"They caught last year something like 47 tonnes, 20-some odd thousand salmon. The highest on record," Hustins said, noting that St. Pierre and Miquelon's numbers were also the highest on record. 

The angling angle 

Aboriginal fisheries in Atlantic Canada and Quebec account for 59 tonnes of salmon, while the angler catch is estimated at around 79 tonnes.

"So anglers, while they're releasing an awful lot of salmon, which is great to see, they're also harvesting and killing a lot of fish as well — again, throughout the entire region," he said. 

Hustins says he believes that if government doesn't do something about the number of fish being consumed in the Aboriginal, Greenland and St. Pierre fisheries — as well as address the angler catch — it's only a matter of time before the province is forced to implement a catch and release policy. 

"If we don't want to see that happen, we've got to take strong conservation measures — and I mean the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, so the minister — to conserve those stocks by reducing the kill by all those user groups," said Hustins.

Despite the figures, Hustins isn't anti-angling. In fact, he said anglers often deter poachers. What he does encourage, however, is that anglers release as many fish as possible. 

Hustins said he's pleased federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea has established an advisory committee on the issue, though he remains critical of government.

"But the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, on the other hand, for the past 10 years has been ignoring international and local scientific advice, which is saying that you don't kill those multi-sea winter fish. And you also don't kill fish that are from a mixed stock fishery," he said.

"So they've been ignoring this advice for 10 years and, hopefully, after this advisory committee gets the report in, [the minister's] going to pay serious attention to the issue."