The province and its anglers are divided on what should and should not happen in the upcoming 2018 Atlantic salmon recreational fishery season.
The recreational Atlantic salmon fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador was once known as one of the best sport fishing experiences in the world, according to some anglers.
However, the 2017 season saw a drastic reduction in salmon stocks in rivers across the province – to the point where Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) closed all scheduled salmon rivers in Newfoundland in August near the end of the salmon season. This led to an uneasy feeling among anglers as the future of the industry was left in the hands of the DFO.
Blue Charm Angling Co. owner and operator Oisin McMahon says the uncertain future of the industry hurts more than anglers
“You’re going to see sales drop everywhere,” he said in reference to how the business side of the sport will suffer. “So what did you have last year? You had six weeks of dry weather where the rivers closed. They opened up to no retention, and then there were no sales anywhere. You can ask pretty much any shop owner and they will give you the same answer. Sales dried up; we didn’t sell hardly a thing.”
Of the 12 island rivers listed on the DFO’s website with Atlantic salmon fishway counters on them, all but one – the Garnish River – saw drastic drops in salmon returns to Newfoundland rivers. The Exploits River generally sees the largest count of salmon swimming through it than any other river in the province. In 2016 the river counter counted 23,459 salmon passing through, as opposed to the 2017 season where it counted only 15,563.
Avid fly fisherman Vince Sharpe believes the 2018 salmon season will be a make or break year for the future of the sport in Newfoundland. After the 2017 season, he predicted there would be changes coming to the regulations, most of which will have an impact on both the sport and the business side of the fishery.
“I figured there was going to be lots of talks. I figured that they’re probably going to let everything slide this year just because they’re going to give the local anglers and businesses the opportunity to prepare for the following year.
“So I think the changes are going to happen in 2019, and I think the 2018 season is going to be the same as 2017. Twenty-nineteen is when they’re going to hit us with the cutbacks, but I think they’re trying to prepare everybody for this. Local businesses are going to take a hit.”
Sharpe says he has some ideas of his own, and if there were to be a public inquiry into the issue of the recreational salmon fishery in Newfoundland, he would gladly voice his opinions if given the opportunity.
“Everybody says that it’s our right to fish it because we’re Newfoundlanders and we were born here. But it’s not,” he said. “It’s a privilege to fish these rivers. It’s our rights to keep these rivers full.”