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Letter: Newfoundland needs more river guardians

Aug 31, 2021

Featured image
Atlantic salmon leaping on Big East River, near Hawke Bay, Newfoundland. Ton Moffatt/ASF

Newfoundland and Labrador has one of the healthiest and strongest populations of wild Atlantic salmon in North America, but the stock is in decline. The reasons for this are many: aquaculture, predators and climate change, for example.

The Newfoundland Outdoor Heritage Coalition, NOHC, are focusing on poaching. Specifically, the prevention of poachers who use nets on the coastlines and rivers.

We had our first meeting about this subject in November 2019 with Liberal MP Ken McDonald and then Covid hit. In June past, after exchanging emails and phone calls, we had a Zoom meeting with the six Liberal MPs. They drafted and sent a letter to DFO Minister Bernadette Jordan. I also sent my own letter in May.

Earlier this month, I received an email response from Minister Jordan. In it, she says that her department feel that the number of enforcement officers in NL is adequate.

There are approximately 250 officers that are employed by the federal, provincial governments and by contract. It’s important to note that the federal and provincial officers have many other different duties and responsibilities. The river guardians work for a private company called SeaWatch, who are contracted by DFO.

We strongly recommend more people be hired and trained as guardians. This will ensure a better geographical distribution of them and will create a more visible presence in areas that they patrol. Because they are spread thinly, poachers are blatant in their illegal activities and becoming more blatant. Poaching is a direct and dangerous threat to the future survival of the wild Atlantic salmon. Poachers are stealing, destroying and decimating river populations for greed and self entitlement.

We also strongly recommend that the guardian’s employment season be extended from May 1 to Nov. 1, for an additional three months. Currently they are hired June 1, which is opening day. They are terminated on Sept. 7, which is the closing day of the season.

The island’s vast coastline is unprotected during May from illegal netting by poachers. From September on, the salmon are very vulnerable to poaching because they are getting ready to spawn. During this time, they are congregated in smaller pools of water inland which make them easy prey. An entire river’s generation can be wiped out with one sweep of a net.

The NOHC have been lobbying close to three years for this change and we feel that the time is now right to go all in. We have initiated a petition on on Facebook which we hope that the majority of the salmon angling community will sign. Next, having this letter published will lead to possible media interview(s) which will bring maximum public exposure to this issue.

Two years ago was the International Year of the Salmon. This year marks the end of SeaWatch’s contract, which obviously has to be renegotiated. And last but not least, there is a federal election. The NOHC would like to hear from the Conservative and NDP candidates. If a federal candidate knocks on your door and you are a salmon angler, ask him/her what their position is.

It’s very important for the general public to understand that we are lobbying the federal government for this change and not the province. After the writ is dropped and an election is announced, no new laws or amendments can be made or changed. We are looking for a commitment to implement an increase of staffing and employment duration for the River Guardians Program. If there is to be a consultation process, NOHC would like to have a seat at that table.

Why should the politicians agree? Besides the fact that they should, they can take credit for playing a role in the Atlantic salmon’s survival. More importantly, the angling community has lived up to our responsibility to ensure the continuation of the resource so that our grandkids will have the same privilege that we currently enjoy, catching a wild Atlantic salmon.

Barry Fordham
Newfoundland Outdoor Heritage Coalition
St. John’s