Salmon anglers in Newfoundland and Labrador won't be able to hit the rivers for the start of the recreational fishing season on June 1, due to delays in making salmon licences available for sale.
Gerry Byrne, the province's minister of fisheries and land resources, announced that delay Friday, along with a host of updates regarding the upcoming salmon angling season.
While the province is responsible for the physical printing of the licences, Byrne laid the blame for the delay squarely at the feet of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which is responsible for regulating the fishery.
Byrne said miscommunication about this season's retention limits and other requirements meant the licences needed to be reprinted, even after three prior printings.
On May 7, DFO announced a one-fish retention limit for 2018, as a response to a sharp decline in salmon return numbers in 2017. That retention limit will be reviewed midway through the season.
"The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has accepted and identified that it was their error, their omission, their misstep that caused this," said Byrne.
"They have told us that they will pay 100 per cent the cost of the reprint."
But Byrne couldn't say when the licences would be reprinted, or when anglers would be able to buy them and begin fishing.
"It is a complex legal document. It is numbered, the numbers have to match the tags … this is not just a pamphlet, a straight piece of paper. It is a complicated print job to produce these licences," he said.
Whenever they are available, licences will be cheap: $5 plus tax, as compared to $26 plus tax in 2017.
"One thing that became loud and clear to me is that the price would become a deterrent for getting families on the river during the angling season," said Premier Dwight Ball.
Ball also said that $5 fee will not be collected by the province but will instead stay with the store or vendor that sells the licence. He hoped that would offset any ill economic effects that may accompany a one-fish retention limit.
"I've had a lot of comments come to me that [anglers are] not going to buy a licence this year, because there's just a one-fish limitation. I think now these people might reconsider and get on the rivers," said Wendell Smith, president of the Upper Humber Rod and Gun Club.
"By having the numbers on the rivers, it certainly deters any illegal activity."
Cap on catch and release
Byrne also announced changes to salmon catch-and-release on Friday.
Along with the one-fish retention limit, DFO previously announced a catch-and-release limit of three fish per day, which also stands to be reviewed midway through the season. But Byrne said provincial regulations will be changed, so the province can cap the overall number of salmon caught and released to 10, until the mid-season review.
When asked how the two rules would coexist, Byrne said, "The regulations are not exclusive of each other. In fact, they're complementary."
Catch-and-release is widely regarded to result in a 10 per cent mortality rate for salmon.
With more people destined to practise catch-and-release in Newfoundland and Labrador rivers this year, some anglers are concerned that mortality rate could rise, due to improperly re-releasing fish.
"I've seen that in the past, where people have shown very little respect for the fish and the resource itself. It sort of boils my blood to see that happen," said Wendell Smith.
How the cap, or standards for catch-and-release could even be enforced is up for debate, as Byrne himself admitted, "there are no regulations as to what's acceptable versus what's unacceptable."
He said there are no plans to up enforcement for this season.
Byrne said catch-and-release methods will be the part of a two-year, $500,000 study of the salmon the provincial government will undertake beginning with the 2018 season.