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Letter: Beware fake news on N.L. salmon

Atlantic Salmon
Atlantic Salmon - Submitted

A new and very powerful brand of messaging is emerging in our world, one we all need to pay very careful heed to. It utilizes all forms of media, in particular social media, to spread lies and innuendo to promote agendas that otherwise would factually be impossible to sell. Donald Trump can take most of the credit for coining this powerful tool as “fake news.” It’s embracing our lives in very dangerous ways. The success of fake news relies on its particular appeal to our hopes and fears.

Our society has evolved in such a way that far too often we simply accept without challenge ideas from others that simply have no measure of truth, rather they play into these hopes and fears in an emotional, rather than a rational manner. Such has been the case over the past few months as various groups and individuals, including some politicians, have lined up using fake news in an effort to discredit Atlantic salmon conservation groups who have worked tirelessly for decades, mostly on a volunteer basis, to protect the future of this species. It would be impossible to address all of the fake news fear mongering topics that have been promoted recently, however there are two recurring ones that need to be addressed.

Privatization of our provincial rivers has been a headline fake news item for far too long. Groups like ours have been falsely accused for years of hiding this as one of our primary objectives. SPAWN (The Salmon Preservation Association for the Waters of Newfoundland) has been immersed in the Atlantic salmon conservation movement for close to 40 years. Over that entire term the only mention of river privatization has been through the accusations of a few irrational individuals and groups who spread this fear to protect their own agendas of greed. Never has it been suggested that the ASF (Atlantic Salmon Federation) or any affiliate member of the Salmonid Council have any ambition to see privatization of rivers within this province. To be very clear on this fake news fear mongering topic, if there was ever a hint of any movement to privatize any inland water body in this province SPAWN would be on the front line fighting to oppose it. Our longstanding position on this topic continues to be equal access to all waters by all anglers, this includes those who prefer retention, live release, or a combination of both, and is extended to all resident and legally guided non-resident anglers.

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Topics related to live release have also become a favorite fake news headline.

For those inclined to actually search the truth of the effectiveness of this as a management tool there are numerous science based studies to support it. Recent fake news articles report mortality rates associated with live release to be in the 30 per cent to 40 per cent range, some even higher. A convenient mistruth, strategically designed to promote the mind-warping concept that in order to protect this species, it’s better to kill angled Atlantic salmon rather than using live release to return them to the river. In reality, scientific research confirms that when best practices are used for live release the actual mortality rate will range from zero to three3 per cent. Our endorsement of live release, as an effective management tool, does not in any way infer it’s the only angling method we support. SPAWN has always endorsed retention angling when science confirms that stocks are healthy enough to do so. We promote best practices for live release angling, and for many years have been encouraging enforcement agencies to develop and adopt an accurate, legally enforceable definition. Any suggestion otherwise is fake news.

Given the recent concern expressed by the science branch of DFO for the future of the Atlantic Salmon there is no better time than the present for constructive fact-based discussion. As a responsible conservation group SPAWN relies on the best available science to be our guide. Our quest for more and improvements to the present science program is something all groups seem to agree on. During this critical period we encourage the entire angling community to become involved. Accept nothing less than fact or science based answers. The Atlantic salmon and future generations of anglers will thank you for it.

John McCarthy,

President, SPAWN

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