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CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — Dale Small has been fishing smelts for greater than 5 many years, and he’s appalled by what he’s now seeing.
The Cornwall resident remembers a time once they had been so plentiful in P.E.I. waterways that it appeared like it will be potential for somebody to stroll throughout the fish in a physique of water with out even getting their toes moist.
Nonetheless, lately, Small has seen first-hand how drastically the inhabitants of smelts has decreased.
“It’s unhappy and alarming,” mentioned Small throughout an interview with SaltWire on Might 5. “Folks want to note earlier than it’s too late.”
For 30 years, Small was an investigative officer with the P.E.I. Aquaculture Division at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).
Small mentioned he has labored in nearly each physique of water in P.E.I., and the issue is throughout your complete province with the worst affected areas being Japanese Kings and West Prince.
Queens County appears to have fared the very best, because it accommodates the least quantity of agricultural land in P.E.I.
“It’s all homes in Queens (County). The areas hit the worst are the areas with probably the most industrial farming,” mentioned Small.
Business farming is without doubt one of the greatest elements as to why the fish are spawning in smaller and smaller numbers yearly.
Topsoil, which is usually saturated with pesticides, runs off into close by streams, blocking water methods and poisoning them.
“It’s fairly disheartening to see what has occurred, particularly the way it has been precipitated, largely, by (the farming of) our meals.”
Elevated numbers of striped bass over time have additionally contributed to the dwindling inhabitants, as they’ve a voracious urge for food for small river fish.
A number of different elements embrace city sprawl, rising inhabitants and warming temperatures.
If no motion is taken, Small mentioned he worries smelts in P.E.I. may turn into a factor of the previous, which might additionally tremendously have an effect on different fish populations, comparable to river salmon, which feed on smelt.
The lack of these fish species can be devastating to P.E.I.’s ecosystem as all of those fish contribute to protecting the river methods wholesome.
Small mentioned he want to see the federal authorities take extra motion.
At a look
• A report printed by DFO in 1997 indicated P.E.I. confirmed a powerful peak within the variety of smelts in 1986.
• It fell once more within the late ’80s, solely to rise barely once more within the Nineteen Nineties.
• No licence is required to fish smelts in P.E.I.
• The 2023 smelt angling season runs from April 1 to June 15.
SaltWire contacted DFO for data on smelt populations in Atlantic Canada. Though it was not capable of present particular particulars on how the fish populations have decreased in current many years, it’s a state of affairs that’s on the radar, wrote a spokesperson for DFO in an announcement supplied to SaltWire Might 17.
“Smelt fish are essential to P.E.I.’s waterways and small our bodies of water, and DFO will likely be persevering with to research claims made by native fishers in these areas to find out the reason for the shortage of fish spawns,” the assertion learn.
DFO didn’t present any numbers or statistics on present smelt spawn populations, as analysis has fallen behind lately.
Small mentioned he making an attempt to not be an alarmist, however he suggests urgent for an entire moratorium on smelt harvesting together with a complete technique to revive habitat and populations.
“Let’s not enable governments to get away with their tried and true smoke and mirrors technique,” mentioned Small.
Rafe Wright is a reporter for SaltWire. He will be reached at [email protected] or by Twitter @wright542