2016 angling season saw 'fair number of violations', illegal netting, DFO says

DFO officials give a rundown on the season that was — for both the law abiders and lawbreakers.

Anecdotal evidence suggests more offences than last year

The final day of catch and release salmon angling for the year on the Exploits, Gander and Humber Rivers is Oct. 7. (CBC)

In the dying days of the 2016 angling season, officials with the Department of Fishery and Oceans are already taking a look back and noting a possible uptick in the number of offences committed this year.

"We encountered 190 fishing violations, which is a fair number of violations," said Ron Burton, a regional area chief for DFO.

Those violations varied from possessing illegal gear, to fishing during a closed time, to obstructing a fishery officer.

"It's quite a variety of offenses," said Burton, adding that more than half of all violations involved inland salmon. 

Those caught and charged face fines that range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Some also lost valuable equipment: three all-terrain vehicles and four boats were seized this year.

"There's quite a potential for loss here, for people who decide to be non-compliant and decide to go out and poach salmon or trout. You're going to lose an ATV and a canoe — and [pay] a fine besides," he said.

The trout and salmon season closed for most of the province in September, although catch and release salmon angling is allowed on the Gander, Humber and Exploits Rivers until Oct. 7. The final statistics have yet to be compiled for a complete snapshot of how 2016 went.

Ron Burton says, of the 190 fishing violations in 2016, 106 involved inland salmon. (Brian McHugh/CBC)

Netting 'devastating'

Based on anecdotal evidence shared between the 200 fishery officers and guardians, along with the provincial fish and wildlife officers who keep an eye on the province's waterways, the illegal netting of salmon continues to be a big problem.

"Netting actually seems to be up slightly this year from last year," said DFO supervisor Daryl Walsh, adding that, in one instance, officers found a net containing 50 dead salmon.

"It can be devastating."

Thirty-nine nets were found and removed this year, either on inland rivers or along the coast.

"A net is a very efficient killing tool. If it's placed in the correct place, across a stream or somewhere on coastal waters where the salmon are migrating, then it has the potential to catch a significant amount of salmon in a short period of time," Burton said.

A mixed bag for law abiders

Poachers are in the minority, as enforcement officials checked about 4,200 anglers this year, slightly down from the 4,400 checked in 2015.

For those who enjoy a day out on the river, 2016 was a bit of a mixed bag: numerous river closures due to poor conditions on the eastern half of the island made for spotty fishing.

"This year, the weather wreaked havoc a little bit," Burton said.

Good returns have been reported in some Avalon and Burin Peninsula rivers although, in other places, anecdotal evidence suggests salmon returns were down.

Official catch numbers have not yet been tallied, although Burton reminded anglers that submitted the log books that accompanied their licences helps give a more accurate snapshot of the season that was.

"Those fishing logs are very important," he said — but because it's based on an honour system, only about half of the logbooks ever return to DFO.

With files from Corner Brook Morning and the St. John's Morning Show