CORNER BROOK — Salmon anglers may be frustrated this summer, but the experts who keep a close eye on salmon returns are not worried about the numbers or the oppressive water conditions.
This angling season will go down in history as one plagued by the low water levels and warm water temperatures that have led to rivers being closed to angling and fish that are less likely to expend the energy it takes to rise and take a fly anyway.
On top of that, the number of salmon that have made their way through salmon counting fences has been lower than last summer so far in 2012 and lower than the five-year average scientists monitor.
In western Newfoundland, 2,250 fish have made their way up the Harry's River system, 3,754 salmon have swam up Torrent River and 803 have entered Western Arm Brook as of Aug. 5.
Chuck Bourgeois, who is section head of salmonids with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, is an angler himself and has all but hung up his rod and reel for the season.
He's sure the resource is OK, though.
"In any given year, the population of salmon in a river can vary by about 30 per cent from one year to the next," said Bourgeois.
The numbers through the three rivers mentioned above, where the counting fences are located, are lower than normal, but are within the 30 per cent range.
Because Atlantic salmon typically spend the first four years of their lives or so in the river before heading out to sea to return to spawn the following year, it would take a several consecutive years of lower than the five-year average for returns before Bourgeois would be concerned.
He acknowledged that low water levels and warm water temperatures can have an impact on juvenile production, but said the biggest factor when considering the health of a salmon run is the marine survival rate.
"For the fish that are going to spawn this year in October and November, there is still plenty of time to get lots of water so that their growth and survival in future years may not even be impacted," said Bourgeois.
Can't enter the sea
While some systems with low water, such as Western Arm Brook on the Northern Peninsula, may have water levels so low that salmon can no longer enter from the sea, Bourgeois said most rivers have enough water to have permitted most of their runs to get into the fresh water.
People often get concerned when they see schools of fish gathered in shallow pools. Bourgeois said this is a natural thing for salmon and it just may be that some pools are more shallow than normal this summer.
"It likely doesn't mean they weren't there before," he said. "The water levels are so low that the fish are highly visible ... If we have enough common sense to leave them alone, they will be just fine."
To check out all the numbers, visit the DFO fishway count website at http://www.nfl.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/salmoncounts.