It’s quiet along the Gaspereau River this week, as the fishing season saw an early end last Friday — a tough decision made by local Gaspereau square net fishers to conserve fish stock.
“We basically decided to close our own fishery down due to the lack of water,” said local fisher Peter Croft. “Because our fish could not get up to the ladder to spawn in the Gaspereau Lake and we were catching way too many.”
Croft is a third-generation Gaspereau fisher and has spent his past 56 years on the river.
A director for the Gaspereau River Square Net Fishermen’s Association, he voted alongside more than a dozen fishers to voluntarily end the season early after 1.6 million fish were caught.
He says that if they hadn’t stopped, they could have likely caught so many fish that they would be out of business in the next year or two.
“The water levels are way low compared to what they used to be,” Croft said. “We used to always have good water levels and the fish could get up by and everybody could catch fish. But we always had good counts going through the ladder.”
This year, Croft says only a little over 500,000 Gaspereau fish made it through the ladder. He’d like to see 800,000 to one million to maintain the population.
“The fish certainly aren’t getting up the ladder in a timely fashion,” said fishery spokesperson Darren Porter. “They used to, therefore, it can be done. And if it can be done, it should be done.”
Fundy United Federation’s Porter says the permanent answer to this situation can not be fisheries shutting themselves down.
Rather, he says the responsibility should fall on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) as well as Nova Scotia Power.
“I’ve called for DFO to do an assessment of the fish passage, a proper assessment, or require NS Power to do a proper fish passage assessment of that system,” Porter said.
“Whatever needs to be fixed, needs to be fixed. We cannot continue this way.”
Porter says Nova Scotia Power is not allowing the timely and free passage of fish to, and through, ladders.
While currently in DFO compliance, he says compliance regulations need to change.
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“Who knows the fish better than those that live on the river? That’s us. We know the fish, we know the river, we know what’s going on,” said Porter.
In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson with DFO said the department “has determined that the number of gaspereau removed from the river through both commercial and recreational fishing has likely exceeded the target removal level for this year.”
“As a result, the decision was taken to close the fishery to conserve the stock,” the statement continued.
“The best available information suggests that the fishery will remain in the healthy zone for 2023 because a precautionary approach has been used.”
DFO said it continues to provide “regulatory advice” to the province and Nova Scotia Power to protect fish and habitats under the Provincial Water Approval.
For Croft, he says people who aren’t on-site to see what’s going on shouldn’t be making decisions.