PINWARE, NL – The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) will host a public meeting later this month to discuss the issue of seining near the mouth of Pinware River.
For a number of years, salmon anglers on Pinware River have said purse seiners have been fishing capelin too close to the river.
Because they’re so close, many anglers believe it’s impossible for the seiners not to be catching salmon as bycatch, thus damaging the salmon population.
The meeting will give them the opportunity to voice their concerns.
In a statement released to the Northern Pen, DFO said it is committed to conserving and protecting Atlantic salmon in Newfoundland and Labrador waters.
“To support this priority, a public meeting will be held at the Pinware Town Hall on Jan. 31, 2018 to hear concerns about purse seiners operating at the mouths of salmon rivers like the Pinware,” the statement read.
DFO resource managers and fishery officers will be in attendance.
According to anglers, the seiners are fishing capelin near the mouth of the river during the prime salmon-angling season in the first couple weeks of July.
Kevin Pike of Pinware is one avid angler at the river’s grounds. He believes the seiners are likely catching salmon as bycatch.
“They say they’re not taking any salmon but it’s hard to put a net across the river and not get no salmon, in my opinion,” he told the Northern Pen.
“Someone would have to show me on video that they’re not taking any salmon for me to believe it.”
Based on his own observations, he believes the practice may be hurting the population.
In recent years, Pike claims to have seen fewer salmon grilse at Pinware River.
He speculates, however, there may be other issues hurting the population, such as the recent introduction of striped bass to the area.
Tony O’Brien, originally of L’Anse au Loup, has been fishing salmon on the Pinware River every summer for the past 40-plus years.
He lives in Happy Valley-Goose Bay now but still returns home every summer to the rich salmon grounds of Pinware River.
He also believes seiners are taking in salmon as bycatch.
O’Brien says when seiners are present, you can see an impact on the amount of salmon within a few days.
“I’ve walked out there and seen the seiners with the river completely barred off, no way a salmon can get in there,” he told the Northern Pen. “And I go back up the river, go fishing, and not a salmon to be caught for days unless it was in holding pools way up the river.”
Both Pike and O’Brien believe the seiners need to be kept further offshore.
“These boats need to be miles and miles offshore, from point to point, not allowed in any bay that rivers flow out,” said O’Brien.
For Pike, the markers used to dictate how close to the mouth of the river the seiners can fish should be moved further away.
“My problem is where DFO got their markers,” he said. “I think they’re in too close.”
He says he’s complained to DFO about this.
Pike believes DFO should have an officer on board the vessels all the time to monitor the bycatch.
O’Brien agrees the markers need to be moved if they are too close.
But he’s also concerned that seiners are fishing capelin inside the markers based on his observations a couple years ago.
In 2015, he says he and his brother took some pictures of seiners near the river.
After the photos started circulating on social media, the Coast Guard showed up and anchored in Pinware Bay.
According to O’Brien, when they arrived the seiners left.
“And there wasn’t a capelin seiner in Pinware Bay, they all left when the Coast Guard showed up,” he said. “So they were obviously inside the markers. All 12 or 13 boats disappeared, and they wouldn’t disappear if they were fishing legally.”
DFO tells the Northern Pen the area near the mouth of Pinware River is closed to all fishing activity to protect Atlantic salmon.
The closed area is designated by caution signs, which define inland versus coastal waters.
Capelin fishing has to occur outside these caution signs.
In 2016, in response to concerns, DFO says it consulted with industry about a proposed extension to the closed area at the mouth of the Pinware River.
The statement says there was little industry support at that time.
“However, this upcoming meeting is part of our continuing efforts to balance conservation and sustainable resources with economic conditions in this area,” DFO’s statement continued. “Any potential changes to designated closed areas near the mouths of salmon rivers would consider the latest available science advice and what we hear from industry and other stakeholders.”
DFO says fishery officers actively monitor fishing activity in coastal and inland waters.
And in 2015 and 2016, it deployed additional enforcement resources to the Pinware area.
“Fishery officers and at-sea observers did not observe any fishing activity inside closed areas and no charges were laid,” the statement read.
DFO encourages the public to report any suspicious fishing activity to their local DFO office or to CrimeStoppers at 1-888-222-TIPS (8477).