Nfld. & Labrador

Less fishing, fewer violations after salmon catch and release order

DFO says the decision to implement a mandatory catch and release policy for the Newfoundland salmon fishery wasn't made lightly.

DFO's Daryl Walsh says officers had to adjust patrol methods this summer

A catch and release policy brought into effect in early August meant fewer people out angling on Newfoundland rivers. (CBC)

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) says the decision to implement a mandatory catch and release policy for the Newfoundland salmon fishery this summer was necessary to protect stocks.

'When catch and release is done properly, it can be very effective.' - Daryl Walsh

​The Department of Fisheries and Oceans declared the island's salmon fishery catch and release only starting  Aug. 6 due to low numbers of salmon returns.

Daryl Walsh, a senior compliance officer with DFO, said it wasn't an easy decision but overall it seems to have worked out for the best.

He understands the damper it may have put on the season for many, and said officers definitely noticed fewer people fishing once the policy came into effect.

"Once we went to catch and release we could see a significant drop in the amount of people out on the rivers," he told the St. John's Morning Show.

Daryl Walsh is a senior compliance officer with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. (Paula Gale/CBC)

Once catch and release was initiated, Walsh said officers had to change their approach to enforcement. That included changing the types of surveillance they do as well as the times they were out in the field looking for violations.

Poaching also down

With the decrease in salmon anglers, violations reported by officers were also down, Walsh said.

"Poaching was down this year. Last year were about 200 violations and this year was down to around 140," he said.

"We didn't see any particularly large violations. We did have eight people apprehended that were netting salmon, and of course that's very concerning for us."

A salmon angler on the Exploits River on Aug. 6. DFO says there were fewer violations last summer during the Newfoundland salmon fishing season compared to 2016. (Marilyn Boone/CBC)

Walsh said even though water levels were quite low in most of the province this summer, the situation has improved over the last several weeks.

He said it's still too early to tell how things will look for the 2018 season, but any decision about catch and release will have to go through extensive consultations before anglers will be required to throw back their fish.

"We realize the cultural and economic significance of the recreational salmon fishery in the province and I'm sure we will do our best to try and come to an agreement on what is the best way forward," he said.

Anglers fish for salmon on the Miramichi River. It's too early to tell if next year will see the same drop in salmon numbers that was reported in 2017. (Radio Canada)

Some have criticized catch and release, saying it is still harmful, and in many cases even lethal for the fish.

Walsh said that can be the case, but said everyone has an obligation to educate themselves on how to properly return a fish to the river.

"When catch and release is done properly, I think it can be very effective and works very well for the salmon," he said. "But if someone plays out the fish too long, or they handle it too much when they try to land it, then that can result in the fish expiring."

With files from St. John's Morning Show