Low water levels leads to bigger problems
© File photo
This salmon was lucky enough to make it through the waters of the Exploits River earlier this month. But a lot of salmon won’t be so lucky, thanks to poachers, who are using extremely low water levels in Newfoundand rivers to net and scoop out unfortunate fish forced by the heat to stay in deep pools and the head of bays until the water cools.
“It’s a Klondike for poachers now.”
Dangerously low water levels in many of the province’s salmon rivers are a poacher’s paradise, according to the provincial Department of Justice’s fish and wildlife enforcement division.
Sheldon Anstey, acting chief of enforcement for Newfoundland and Labrador, said the low levels are causing some very serious poaching issues for two reasons.
First, when the water levels are really low, the water temperature goes up. Salmon don’t like warm water, and they don’t like low water,” he said. “They will stay into the bay or some of the bigger lakes before they get into the rivers. They will stay in a school and school around and wait until the opportune time to go in.”
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) recently closed 65 salmon rivers because of the low levels.
When the water levels are more normal, the salmon will continue on their journey, but this year has been extreme, said Anstey.
“The water levels were down significantly very early in the season, and we were seeing large numbers of salmon out in the bays and the estuaries going around and around. They’re stopping going in.”
That’s bad news for salmon and for conservationists, but not for poachers. Word gets out that the bays are full of salmon which are not going into rivers on their usual routes. The result is a lot more coastal netting by poachers, according to Anstey.
And the saga of the unfortunate fish continues. Once they get in the rivers in earlier in the year, and water levels drop, they get trapped in the deeper pools.
“In some rivers, you’ve got large numbers of salmon relative to the size of the pool,” explained Anstey. “You may have 20-30 fish in a little hole that’s six or eight feet across. And then you get dip-netting, and people sweeping the pool with a short piece of net, jigging, that sort of thing.”
As for poaching in general, Anstey said the department has not seen a significant drop in numbers. This summer, to date, there has been approximately 200 complaints of poaching activity, 74 written warnings, and 49 charges were laid up to the weekend ending July 8.
“We’ve tried to get the message out, and the province is involved through justice’s fish and wildlife division,” said Anstey. “We’re playing an active role alongside with DFO and we’re catching a lot of people. I think it’s making the opportunistic poacher think twice. But the hardcore poachers, the ones that are going to do it anyway, they’re making money, selling fish because the market is out there.”
As long as there’s money to be made, and people willing to buy salmon door to door for $5 or $10 apiece, there’s going to be poaching, he added.
To report poachers, people can call 1-800-222 TIPS (8477), or 1-877-820-0999, the department of justice’s fish and wildlife enforcement division.