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To Fish, or Not to Fish?


Last year we worried about the loss of the salmon fishing season on the Nova Scotia’s St. Mary’s River and other Guysborough County streams. Unfortunately, it happened.


This year we’re worried that the rivers may be closed completely due to a closed trout fishery as well. The issue still has not been decided, so there’s still hope. Hope for the wonderful way of life we enjoy here. Our young people appreciate that and our social and economic values are worth fighting for. So let’s do it!


What’s at issue?


Is by-catch a problem that dictates closure of trout fishing? That’s the issue.


In 2010 some anglers were observed using a General Fishing License to (allegedly) target Atlantic salmon when the salmon season was closed, although no one was charged on the St. Mary’s. In 2010 there was no open salmon season, despite a salmon population that we’ve seen rebound over the past five years. Regulations require that all Atlantic salmon be released alive, and the severe penalty for non-compliance is an effective deterrent. So, whether or not there is an open salmon season, live-release is required, so the issue is NOT conservation. In fact, since angler presence is known to be a poaching deterrent, closure can actually harm salmon populations.


Other harmful effects of closure to the sport fishery include lack of angler information and the subsequent loss of public interest and support suffered by our volunteer organizations that work to develop and sustain fishing.


Who are the government agencies involved in the issue?


Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s,

DFO, our federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans,

NS Inland Fisheries, and

DNR, our NS Department of Natural Resources.


Who else is involved?


ESA, the Eastern Sportfish Association,

Mulgrave and Area Lakes Enhancement Association,

SMRA, the St. Mary’s River Association, and

NSSA, the Nova Scotia Salmon Association.


Why did this issue arise?


Halifax based NSSA representatives Carl Purcell and Larry Short told DFO and NS Inland Fisheries that they want this “dirty fishery” cleaned up. Whether they speak on behalf of their membership or because of personal issues is open to speculation. They have singled out the St. Mary’s and LaHave Rivers, which local organizations on both rivers see as interference in dealing with local issues. They also seem to acknowledge that closure may actually result in harm to salmon populations. Local residents such as me, Sandy Barnhill and John Cameron Sr. were all directors of NSSA. Sandy Barnhill’s father, Gordon Barnhill, was a founding director of NSSA. We are appalled by this uncharacteristic action by an organization we’ve long supported and respected.


Then there’s DFO. It is important to remember that DFO has the responsibility for managing Atlantic salmon in Canada. DFO policy, including their divestiture of federal salmon hatcheries in 1995, got us where we are today. In addition, I suspect that DFO may be playing us all so that the blame for controversial regulatory changes gets attributed to others. I’ve seen that strategy work for DFO before, so let’s not fall for that one!


Furthermore, DFO’s population estimates over the past five years are much lower than angler observations suggest. After all, if there were so few salmon in the St. Mary’s, why would anglers want to fish them?


DFO biologists admit that their assessment methods have a theoretical variance of 100%, but even that isn’t enough to account for the steady recovery of salmon populations that anglers have seen. DFO reports no appreciable increase during the last five years, yet angling observation tells us the opposite. The increase has also been seen in New Brunswick streams and elsewhere, so it raises another question:


Is DFO deliberately understating population estimates? A possible motive might be to avoid dealing with a Native fishery. Another might be to advance aquaculture development. Another might be to influence COSEWIC action. Who knows? But we anglers know what smells fishy!


Opponents to any form of trout or salmon fishery closure are ESA and the Mulgrave Association. They support ESA’s mission, “to develop and sustain the recreational sport fishery and provide economic and social benefit to residents of the region”. They also feel that closure is unfair to trout anglers that have joined a growing and lucrative sea-trout fishery.


As I write this the St. Mary’s River Association is still sitting on the fence, favoring an open salmon season, as do all of the angling groups involved, including NSSA. But, if that isn’t possible, SMRA favours closure of some pools. SMRA directors must decide whether their personal issues are supported by their members, the community, and are in the best long-term interest of the river and their Association. They, and everyone else, will have to live with the result of their decision.


Our provincial government agencies DO support open fisheries that attract visitors to Nova Scotia and benefit our people, and they are responsible for trout management. But ultimately the province and DFO must together determine the outcome.


That’s why all concerned should attend the public DFO ZMAC (Zone Management Advisory Committee) meeting coming up this Friday. Tell DFO what you think!


When: Friday, May 20, 2011 at 10:30 AM.

Where: The St. Mary’s River Association’s Interpretive Centre in Sherbrooke


Please send comments and suggestions to slim@rivermagic.ca


Please stay on the line …