According to Black1958; Beggs et al.1980; Graham et al.1982; and Wood et al. 1983 all indicate that exhaustive exercise can result in delayed mortality of a large fraction of hook and released salmon. There are many studies, however, that indicate that this is not the case. Those studies have resulted in a new management strategy by DFO in the inception of hook and release supported by governments, various Salmon Advisory groups and to some degree the general public. There, then, is conflicting results with regard to post exercise/angling mortality among Atlantic Salmon. Why?
The studies that I have looked at that support hook and release, mainly Whoriskey on the Ponoi River in Russia, the Conne River Release study and a paper edited by Whoriskey and Whelan : Managing Wild Atlantic Salmon: New Challenges-new Techniques all have some major concerns with regard to how this translates to Hook and Release on salmon streams in Newfoundland and Labrador.
1. The Ponoi River has a main stream channel of 426km and drains an area of 15,000 km. We have no such river in Newfoundland. Our rivers are much smaller, with less water flow. The Ponoi river is north of the Arctic Circle and has a water temperature that never exceeded 20 degrees Celsius. Whoriskey claims that if water temperature exceeds 22 degrees celsius this may greatly affect the results. Whoriskey(2000) says:
“ However at warm temperatures(>22 degrees ), in extremely soft water, or when the fish have moved recently from salt water to fresh water, the magnitude of physiological disturbances may be increased and the fish may suffer higher rates of mortality.(p.123).
If that is the case then we need to be very careful with monitoring water temperatures on our small Newfoundland rivers, which the proponents of hook and release state categorically do have a detrimental effect on hook and release survival rate. We now operate outfitting business lodges in our province and there would be undue pressure on DFO to keep rivers open no matter what the water temperature, because Salmon Angling is a business now and one could see Outfitting Lodges placing pressure to maintain future business.
2. The Ponoi River system is a totally Sports Fishing Enterprise, with all rights to the river owned by the Ponoi River Company. All commercial weir fishing was cancelled and hook and release was initiated, with anglers only allowed to kill one fish per week. Whoriskey attributes the increase of salmon in the river by saying that the cancellation of weir fishing and hook and release have increased the abundance of fish on the river. Therefore, he promotes the idea of hook and release by saying that the salmon have increased, but that is in conjunction with the cancellation of weir fishing. Wouldn’t it seem feasible that if weir fishing was cancelled, that the number of salmon would increase anyway? That argument is a none argument as far as I am concerned. Plus the river is now totally privatised and only sports fishing is permitted.
In Newfoundland we have a hook and retain of four fish, and we must release fish over 63 centimetres . On the Ponoi River system there is no measuring system, therefore fish are not held to be measured. Thus, this would cut down on the length of time the fish is on the hook, subsequently influencing the data. If Newfoundland rivers were strictly hook and release and privatized maybe we would reach the same data. Is this the science that is going to support the privatization of our rivers? This seems to be where the Salmon Advisory Groups are heading and that is not the position of the Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Federation.
3. All of the studies I have looked at make cautionary notes when it arrives at their conclusions about the length of time the fish in on the hook, the temperature of the water, the softness of the water, if the fish are caught close to the mouth of the river, air exposure, etc. Al the research calls for further study on all the above mentioned cautionary notes. The results are not conclusive and yet we have a management scheme that promotes conservation in the same vein that it promotes angling to supplant our GDP.
4. Whoriskey indicates in his research that salmon may be caught as much a three times in the one season. He cautions that angler data on the number of fish caught may give a false impression of the number of fish on the river system. He cautions DFO by stating that “ where harvest levels are dictated in part by information from angling CPUE statistics, the levels will need to be calibrated for the existence of multiple captures if unintended overfishing is to be avoided” (Whoriskey 2000,124). DFO allows for a 5% catch-and -release mortality (Whoriskey 2000,p.216), if this is the case then a river with 5000 fish, 250 fish are allowed to be killed through hook and release. If our salmon stocks are at such risk as indicated by DFO, then 1 fish is too many to die in the name of a conservation.
5.I have been a salmon angler since 1968 and during my early years of fishing I saw very few dead fish. I am seeing dead fish now, especially in pools where salmon are forced to hang up because of water levels. I am not seeing a great many dead fish, but in the past Five years I can recall about 40-50 dead fish. Other anglers (through personal communication) have informed me of the same.
6. Many fisherman (local and tourists) hook and release far more than four fish a day. I have witness fisherman hooking and releasing as high as 20 fish in one day’s fishing. Locals see tourists doing this and subsequently do the same, having fun or looking for the fish that measurers between 60 -63 Centimetres. What happens with tourists, is that guides are sometimes paid a huge tip by the foreign angler if he permits more that four fish. Local guides get paid minimum wage and to get a substantial tip( in American Money), one can see the rational behind the hook and release scenario. I have witnessed this myself, and I am a licensed guide, and have been placed in the situation above. I no longer get clients from local outfitters in the area.
7. Conne River hook and release: There as only been ONE study carried out in Newfoundland and yet we were one of the first regions to adopt this management strategy. The ONE study that was carried out was done on the Conne River system . 69 fish were caught, tagged and placed immediately in holding tanks in the river, the fish were kept in holding pens for two weeks- NOT released into the river system, no radio tags were used and the fish were not monitored when they were released. Four salmon died after having their gills exposed to air. The research did mention specifically that the water temperatures were not as extreme as had been observed in previous years. All of the research I have looked at deal with hook and release on large river systems, and do not take into account any data from small rivers systems like Newfoundland. The data calls out for extensive research on small river systems in Newfoundland.
8. No mention is made of the American Eel as a predator of injured or weak salmon. Through personal observation, the American Eel will seek out and kill injured salmon, would that be a reason we are not seeing a lot of dead salmon in our rivers. Minks will also eat and kill weak salmon. I have witnessed such an event, other anglers would support such observations.
9. All the research that I have reviewed have been sponsored by groups who have something to gain from hook and release. Namely, The Ponio River Company in Russia sponsored Whoriskey’s study, in New Brunswick it was the Lee Wulff Foundation, Miramichi Salmon Association, Atlantic Salmon Federation,Canada-New Brunswick Co- Operation Agreement on Recreational Fisheries.
All the research that I have previewed is full of questionable results, that cannot be supported with concrete evidence. There is an undeniable need for further research in all aspects of hook and release as a management strategy for Atlantic salmon, and the research cries out for research on eels as predators of weak salmon, no data is forthcoming if those hooked and released fish spawned, virtually no research on hook and release in Newfound and Labrador rivers. This needs a much closer look.
Hook And Release: