A little over a week after salmon anglers in Newfoundland and Labrador resumed their annual call to keep fishery guardians on salmon rivers longer, the federal government has extended the program by four weeks.
Fishery guardians are contract workers hired by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans who monitor the province's salmon rivers during the recreational salmon fishing season to deter poaching. Their contracts generally start in May and wrap up in September with the ending dates guided by the timing of salmon runs in various areas.
Some anglers have campaigned for years, pleading with the federal government to keep guardians on rivers after the fishing season ends as salmon remain spawning in provincial waterways until late October or early November.
"It's a presence. People are less apt to do illegal activities if there's somebody watching," John McCarthy, president of the Salmon Preservation Association for the Waters of Newfoundland and Labrador, said Thursday.
"In light of the fact that right now there's no angler presence, having guardians there is always a good thing."
Avalon MP Ken McDonald, who has been on the receiving end of emails and letters from N.L. anglers asking him push for the extension of guardians' contracts, said he has presented the idea to "minister after minister."
On Thursday, McDonald credited federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray for following through and extending the program.
He calls the extension a "step in the right direction" but only 41 fishery guardians will remain on board. This summer, Newfoundland and Labrador has had 129 fishery guardians working throughout the province. About 100 fishery officers continue to monitor rivers and respond to compliance issues.
"Some rivers close earlier than others so I think the 41 will be able to manage the rivers that are still open until Oct. 7," McDonald said.
"It'll give Atlantic salmon some protection for the next four weeks. I'm not saying people on the rivers are doing anything wrong but if there's no enforcement it might entice someone to take that chance to do something out of sorts that will ultimately harm the future stock."
Three rivers — the Gander, Exploits, and Humber — remain open in Newfoundland until Oct. 7 for a fall angling season, under a catch-and-release policy.
A new change
McCarthy and other advocates want to see guardian contracts extended even longer.
He said salmon will still be in the rivers after the guardians' new end date of Oct. 7 and he wants to see two more weeks tacked on while the fish finish spawning.
"Illegal activities can take 50, 60 or 100 fish a night out [of the river] with a net," said McCarthy.
"If you can prevent one net from going in a river by having a guardian program, and that river probably has 800 fish running in it, that's very impactful."
But this year's extension may also pave the way for changes to the program in future years.
McDonald said he thinks the October end date will be the new norm.
"I think it will probably stay in place," he said. "I think it's something the department now recognizes that if the angling season is still open we still should have the river guardians on the rivers to make sure everybody is playing by the rules."