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Atlantic salmon ascending Newfoundlands Exploits River as seen from an underwater window of ERMAs interpretive centre.

Opportunities - Newfoundland shows us how its done

How the community driven Environment Resources Management Association (ERMA) initiative increased Newfoundland’s Exploits River adult salmon population from 1,500 in 1983 to 40,000 fish in 2011.

When the St. Mary’s River Association’s community-based river management project was active in the mid-1980s, I recall a scouting visit from a small western Newfoundland community group that heard about what we were doing on the St. Mary’s. That group became known as the Environment Resources Management Association (ERMA), website: http://www.exploitsriver.ca

In 1984 the Grand Falls Chamber of Commerce wanted to develop the Exploits River as a major Atlantic salmon producing river, creating much needed employment in the region. Lead by local volunteers, ERMA was formed to take on one of the largest economic developments yet seen in the Exploits valley, showing what cooperation among municipal, provincial and federal governments, along with industry and community groups can achieve.

The Atlantic Salmon Federation's Economic Value of Wild Atlantic Salmon report by Gardner Pinfold Consultants says "The Exploits is now recognized as a world-class salmon river and one of the most successful salmon enhancement projects in North America. Major investments in fishways, fish ladders, and stocking programs have successfully overcome the natural falls and hydroelectric dams that were initially constructed to support mining operations, forestry and pulp and paper production. These industries have ceased, leaving the Exploits to be developed for salmon fishing, paddling, and other eco-tourism opportunities."

"From 1974 to 1992 salmon broodstock from the lower section of the river was used to produce over 50 million salmon fry that were transported by helicopter and established all over the mid-Exploits up to Red Indian Lake. In the late 1970s the returning run of salmon numbered around 1500 and now the run is self-sustaining at about 40,000 fish. These salmon runs are now second only to the Miramichi as the largest runs in North America. The Salmonid Interpretation Centre draws about 26,000 visitors each year that want to learn about salmon and the Exploits."

The Gardner Pinfold report shows that the economic impact of Exploits River salmon angler spending was about $3 million in 2005. The Exploits has only recently developed as a world class salmon fishing destination, still fished largely by NL residents (over 98% in 2005), so there is excellent potential for further economic growth. The Exploits, Newfoundland’s largest river system, has capacity for a much larger adult salmon population than 40,000 and non resident anglers are just beginning to discover the river.


It’s interesting to note that, in contrast, Nova Scotia's Margaree River salmon fishery's economic benefit to Inverness County in 2005 was $2.5 million and 67% of the anglers were residents of Nova Scotia. Here we see another fine example of development of a valuable natural resource.

Gardner Pinfold also quotes a 2008 DFO conservation status report, "There is a low percentage of large salmon and egg deposition and just 41% of conservation requirements have been met in recent years. However the strong increases in returning salmon underscore a positive outlook for self-sustaining salmon populations on the Exploits."

It's tragic that Nova Scotia failed to develop or renew its valuable wild Atlantic salmon resource, except for projects on the Margaree, East River Sheet Harbour, and Guysborough County’s St. Francis Harbour River, all requiring hatchery maintenance on a continuing basis.

Guysborough County alone has at least 11 candidate streams for wild salmon fishery development, the largest being the gorgeous St. Mary’s River. When one considers the natural and man-made obstacles that were overcome on the Exploits, our salmon sport fishery should be easy to restore in comparison.

It’s ironic that the group that came to learn from the St. Mary’s River Association was enormously successful while we now have no salmon sport fishery. These Newfoundlanders have certainly shown us how it’s done.

Can we follow ERMA’s example? Another good question for our government representatives and candidates – will they support us in a St. Mary’s River economic development project for the region?

Here’s a NL fly you might use on the Exploits or any other salmon stream. For example, I recall silver bodied squirrel tail flies with yellow hackle being very effective on the St. Mary’s in May-June. This one is by Sheet Harbour’s Chris Williams, whose credentials include operating a fly fishing shop in St. John’s, NL.

Silver Cosseboom

Hook:         Bronze 3XL streamer hook, size 4, 6, or 8

Tail:            Silver Krystal Flash

Butt:           Peacock herl

Body:                   Flat silver holographic tinsel

Wing:                   Grey squirrel

Hackle:      Yellow hen saddle, tied in by tip and wound collar-style

Head:         Black thread with 2 coats of clear Angler’s Corner Wet head cement

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