This season was a poor one for the salmon fishery in the province. Returns have been at record lows, with salmon ladders and monitoring efforts reporting numbers as low as one fifth of the historical average.
The suspected reasons for this are manifold:
Increased amounts of glacial ice off the province’s coast delays the salmon migration until later in the season, skewing data sets.
River water levels have been at their lowest points in several years, with the entire Avalon system having been shut down for the later half of this year’s season. These lower levels make it much harder for salmon to return to their spawning pools.
Water temperatures have also been at record highs. This causes the salmon to exert more energy upon their travel, increasing their risk of mortality before completing their journey to spawn.
Perhaps most concerning however, has been an “explosion” of Atlantic striped bass reported in the province’s waterways. Striped bass are normally found as far north as the St. Lawrence River, but have never been spotted as far as L’Anse au Clair (as they have been this season).
This particular species of striped bass are known to be “indiscriminate feeders,” meaning that their diet consists of anything they can get their mouths on.
The concerns regarding the striped bass are threefold:
Firstly, striped bass are a species much more accustomed to warm waters, with their habitat stretching down as south as the Florida Keys. Their presence this far north suggests warmer temperatures in the province’s waters, which is hazardous for other species, namely northern shrimp.
Secondly, the bass may be feeding on food-supply species such as capelin for the northern cod. The effects of diminished capelin stocks have been reported in outbreaks of a zooplankton infection known as blackberry.
Thirdly, the real effects of this species presence will not be felt until the next season: while adult salmon moving upstream are much too large to be prey to the striped bass, the smolt (salmon offspring) will make a tasty treat for the bass when they move from their breeding pools, back out into the Atlantic (where they do most of their growing).
The official line from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is stoic: it has declared that in light of the species’ appearance, anglers should report all bass that are landed to the DFO, and to release all caught bass into the water. At this time, the department has not designated the striped bass as a known threat.
Any major decline in the salmon stocks could be disastrous for the sport fishing and outfitting industry in the province; this is especially true in Labrador where sport fishing has long been recognised as some of the best in the world. Poor returns this season could result in the tarnishing of reputations and consequently lower bookings for future years.
The collaborating effects of warmer waters, lower water levels, and potential new predators could result in the closing of the recreational salmon fishery. This year has seen the premature closure of most of the province’s salmon scheduled rivers due to low runs. It is not clear as of yet what the situation for next season will be.