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In The Field

Angling interrupted

With opening day of the 2020 recreational fishing season pushed back in many provinces, anglers, guides, and business owners weigh in on the impact of a delayed start.

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In Nova Scotia, anglers normally make their first cast of the year on April 1. In P.E.I and New Brunswick, opening day comes two weeks later on April 15th. Now all three provinces, out of concern that recreational fishing could exacerbate the spread of coronavirus, have officially delayed the start of the recreational fishing season.

Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are aiming for a May 1 opening, and P.E.I. officials have decided to keep rivers and lakes closed to anglers until at least June 1st.

I recently reached out to people around Nova Scotia and P.E.I. to better understand how these delays are affecting anglers, guides, and shop owners.

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Silvers pool on St. Mary's River in northeast Nova Scotia. Neville Crabbe/ASF


While anglers I spoke to recognize the unique times that we are facing and the need for restrictions, many are still struggling to understand why the angling season could not have started on time, but with additional measures in place, like having only people that share the same residence together in a boat and keeping a safe distance from other anglers on the water.

Deirdre Green and Derek Whiteway who live near Antigonish, N.S. worry that the temporary loss of angling will negatively affect people’s mental health at an already difficult time. They write, “Escaping to the woods and disconnecting from society in pursuit of wild fish has become a sanctuary for many”.

Larry Shortt from Nova Scotia lamented the delay, said he was willing to do what is needed to ensure “anglers can stay on the water for years to come”.

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Guides play an important role in Nova Scotia's angling culture, and are important in maintaining our understanding of the rivers. Kris Hunter/ASF


Guides such as Carroll Randall from Nova Scotia expressed an “understanding that offering services would be difficult to do while maintaining required social distance protocols,” but nonetheless, many guides expressed concern about what a season on ice would mean for their business and said they would miss the interaction and camaraderie with sports.

Guide David Hartlin worried that recent efforts to promote guiding services in Nova Scotia would lose momentum, harming everyone involved. James Veinot told me the delay has put he and others at a “cross roads,” because the uncertainty is affecting their ability to book business for later in the year. Cameron Ross from P.E.I. reflected that the drop in tourism overall will spill into his business and cost him a significant amount of revenue he was counting on.

Because of the nature of guiding, especially for people operating independently, there was concern they would not qualify for government assistance programs.

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Anglers spend money, often at "Mom and Pop" local tackle shops as well as more general stores. Kris Hunter/ASF


With no angling, the normal early season surge of spending on equipment and tackle has not materialized. As one business owner I spoke with put it, “What the heck are we supposed to do now?”

Shop owners lamented having to lay off employees and while some felt they could ride out the lean times and reopen when restrictions are lifted, other worried the current public health crisis would be too much to weather.

Small tackle and fly shops are more than a place to buy what you need. They are hubs for advice and information, even unofficial tourist bureaus for river visitors. As one shop owner in Nova Scotia said, “if the Mom and Pop places go then I don’t see the big box stores providing that same type of quality and service to local fisherman.”

I reached out to more than 15-people to gauge their reaction to the news of angling seasons delayed. It’s clear that anglers want to angle and their inability to do so is having a ripple effect.

When restrictions lift, and they will, let’s help guides and shop owners make up for lost ground and say thanks for hanging in there.

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The West River in Antigonish on the afternoon of April 16. No sign of brook trout or kelts in any of the pools, but the run should be starting soon here. Kris Hunter/ASF