Gerry Byrne says salmon catch and release can only go so far, federal action needed

Environmental assessment underway for salmon farm in Placentia Bay — for now

Following a meeting between salmon anglers and the premier, the province's minister of fisheries and land resources is calling on the federal government to step up to the plate.

"We are the greatest conservationists of the Atlantic salmon resource. Let no one speak otherwise," Gerry Byrne told CBC Radio's Corner Brook Morning Show.

"But with that said, we need other partners to come to the table and help us be these conservationists."       

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans declared the salmon fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador catch and release only starting  Aug. 6 due to low numbers of salmon returns. 

Last week, a group of salmon anglers met with Premier Dwight Ball in Deer Lake. They feel the decision to close the retention fishery was premature and not based on good data.

While Premier Ball heard them out, he referred the matter to the province's Department of Fisheries and Land Resources — of which Byrne is the minister.

"We will always be conservationists in Newfoundland and Labrador, but it's time for others that have such platitudes about this resource … including and especially the federal government, to step up and do what it's supposed to be doing," he said.

While Byrne said he does not argue with DFO that the numbers of returning salmon don't allow for a retention fishery, he would "absolutely" like to see more counting fences.

"Whether it be counting fences or some other method … it is basic to science that expanding that actual depth of knowledge that the survey sampled seems to be a prudent and sensible way to proceed," he said.

"Twelve counting fences, 12 assays on a resource as rich and as iconic as the Atlantic salmon, quite frankly it's patently ridiculous," he said.

Limit to conservationist 'ethic'

Byrne said there isn't enough information on the salmon resource and where it is headed, and that better resources are needed for science and enforcement. 

"We are the greatest conservationists of the Atlantic salmon resource," he said.

"But if we do not have a willing partner to step up and help us with all this, if we're constantly being asked to surrender our access –to reduce our overall take on this without any support from the federal government – that conservationist ethic will wane over the course of time."