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 Hook and Release -The Management of Leisure

Community Watershed Management and hook and release, as advocated by Mr. Larry Felt in a recent commentary in The Evening Telegram, is to become the saviour of Salmon stocks in Newfoundland and Labrador. Mr. Felt’s arguments are loosely based on the classic Garrett Hardin article “The Tragedy of the Commons” in which all resources are for sale. Garrett Hardin postulates that in our society -everything is for sale-and all our political decisions are reduced to economic decisions. In other words, we have no political system- no means to save ourselves-only an economic system (one dollar- one vote). Mr. Larry Felt and the Salmonid Council of Newfoundland appear to believe that each river in our province should be managed by adjacent communities and that each river should earn a profit, this would then translate into economic gain for the people in the adjacent community. Mr. Felt, as a prominent sociologist, in our province should know that this theory is flawed. It is too simplified and abstract. It is based on the principles of competition and not cooperation. For further information about this theory, contact my email address below.   

In the past, we have seen examples of the theory rising it’s head and becoming a tool for privatization, as was the case in  the Gander River scenario a few years ago, when a “ toll booth”was installed on the Gander River. Each salmon angler had to pay an additional fee to fish on section’s of the Gander River. The Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Federation and ORCA( Outdoor Rights and Conservation Association) took the Gander Community Watershed Management to court and eventually had the “toll gate “ removed. Plans were already in place for other “toll booths” on the Exploits and the Humber, if the test case in Gander was successful. The Salmonid Council of Newfoundland appears to believe that the resource should pay for itself. How can a resource pay for itself, unless it becomes severely regulated and extra fees are charged. This can only occur under a private/corporate banner. This is privatization under the Community Watershed Management Theory.
What is occurring here is that all salmon anglers know the resource needs better management? However, the Salmonid Council of Newfoundland and Labrador wants to be the regulatory agency. You are advocating the equitable and rational distribution of the advantages to all citizens through you Community Watershed Management Tool. What I see, however, is your council, striving to develop a period of political quiescence among all salmon anglers and communities in the province. Once you political quiescence has developed, your highly organized interest group, the Salmonid Council-supported by ASF (Atlantic Salmon Federation), will wish to make other incursions into the management of our rivers, you will do so through other political processes to convert the Community Watershed Agency for the protection and furthering of your own interest - in other words ,in through the back door. You are already attempting to do this in your supposed hook and release scientific data and allying yourself with the outfitting business in the province- who again see the resource as a means of profit. This can be illustrated by the recent political pressure to keep the Highlands River system open for hook and release during the Fall fishery. The Highland’s river salmon returns have shown significant depletion over past number of years, yet the Salmonid Council appears to support keeping it open for hook and release. This Fall fishery appears to also have the support of DFO(Department of Fisheries and Oceans), who have admitted to a 12% mortality rate in their Hook and Release data. If the Salmonid Council and DFO were advocating conservation management as you indicated, then you would be crying to do something other than initiate hook and release during the Fall fishery, just to appease political pressure from a local outfitting business.

Community Watershed Management is nothing more than a tool for the Management of Leisure, and not a tool for the sustainable management of our salmon resource. Hook and Release data is used to augment this Management of Leisure to support our American and Canadian tourists and the Outfitting enterprises in the province. Isn’t it kind of ironic that most of the Hook and Release data is researched in New Brunswick and just recently all New Brunswick rivers were to be auctioned of to the highest bidder? .  We do not prescribe to do this in Newfoundland and Labrador. Our rivers are not for sale.
I have scrutinized much of the research on Hook and Release of Atlantic salmon. Most of the research has been conducted in the New Brunswick/ Nova Scotia area, with the exception of ONE study on the Conne River in Newfoundland and other studies in Russia, Iceland and Scotland.  In the Conne River study 49 fished were angled, 8.2% of the fish caught died. The majority of the fish died within the first twelve hours. However, those fish were not released back into the river system immediately. They were held in a holding tank and after released. Would more fish have died if they had been released immediately back into their natural habitat, with water temperatures, water flow, bacteria’s and predators to contend with?  After they were released, they were not followed upstream. Did more die after they were released? This begs the question that much more research is necessary. The researchers of this Conne River study, themselves, also caution, and I quote “that the water temperature conditions on the Conne River were not as extreme as has been observed in some years. It is possible that a similar experiment carried out under significantly different water level and temperature conditions might produce different results with respect to catch-and -release mortality.”  Furthermore, in other research I have reviewed, researchers indicate - and I quote, - “ that few studies involved salmon taken by normal angling procedures.” If nothing else, this cries out for more independent research on Newfoundland and Labrador Rivers, seeing that Catch and Release has become a significant management tool, supposedly to increase and conserve our Salmon stocks.  To be more specific, researchers such as Black(1958), 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 hooked and released salmon?

Fred Whoriskey, a director with the ASF(Atlantic Salmon Federation) from his study on the Ponoi River system in Russia, advocates  that hook and release has resulted in an increase in the salmon run on this river. However, he fails to point out that weir fishing was cancelled on the river and the river is now solely owned by the Ponoi River Company. Wouldn’t the closure of the weir fishery, in itself, increase the salmon runs on the river? .Local people in this river system, now, are only permitted to retain one fish per week, since the inception of hook and release and the ownership of the river by the Ponoi River Company. Is this what is in store for Newfoundland and Labrador rivers?  B.L. Tufts et al(1997) says that his research generally supports hook and release as a conservation strategy, but he also cautions that it is  important to consider the conditions under which the salmon will be angled when evaluating the benefits of catch and release as a management tool.
Therefore, as a salmon angler since I was twelve years old, this research cries out not only for more research, but the current research has some serious flaws. One of my biggest concerns is that we are using hook and release as a management tool in Newfoundland and Labrador and only one study has been done- with the results questionable, at best. We all know that many of our rivers are small, with water flows much less than the rivers in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  DFO must conduct more independent research on hook and release in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Hook and Release/ Community Watershed Management have come to the forefront again because at a recent DFO Salmon Advisory meeting in St. John’s, all members of that committee, with the exception of the Salmonid Council of Newfoundland and Outfitter representatives, recommended to Mr. Slade (DFO representative), that Hook and Release and other current Salmon management practices  is not supported as management tools by the majority of people in the province. The question now arises what will Mr. Slade recommend to our Federal Minister as to the future management strategies for Atlantic Salmon stocks in Newfoundland and Labrador. I trust that as our true representative, you will take all accounts into consideration and recommend what was advised at this recent DFO Salmon Advisory Meeting.

Hook and Release -
The Management of Leisure

A Commentary by Ward Samson, President, NLWF.