The Atlantic salmon angling season is barely three weeks old and poachers in western Newfoundland are already feeling the heat.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans says it has charged half a dozen people with poaching offences since the season opened June 1, including an illegal netting operation in the coastal waters off the Port au Port Peninsula.
The federal agency has also laid charges in the coastal waters of Bonne Bay and on Crabbes River, a scheduled salmon angling river.
The most significant of the busts was the arrest of two men as they unloaded an illegal catch at the spillway in Lower Cover on the southern shore of the Port au Port Peninsula at around 5 a.m. last Saturday.
The men, who cannot be identified because they have yet to appear in court, were allegedly found with a net containing two large salmon and three grilse, along with three herring, one cod and one mackerel.
While it is illegal to net salmon at any time, the men never had a licence to net any sort of fish, so all the species were taken illegally.
Ron Burton, DFO’s area chief for western Newfoundland and southern Labrador, said the arrests in Lower Cove were the result of intelligence gathered by DFO itself and the help of contacts living in the area.
“People think that, because they don’t see us sometimes, that we are not out and about doing things,” said Burton.
“When we know there are individuals, like these two gentlemen in Lower Cove last Saturday morning, and we have the information we need to catch them, we set ourselves up to catch them.”
Besides the fish and net, fisheries officers also seized an aluminum boat and motor from the two men in Lower Cove.
The other poaching offences included two people charged with retaining Atlantic salmon angled for in coastal waters in the Bonne Bay area.
Angling in coastal waters is not illegal in itself, but any salmon caught must be released.
Two more people were charged for using baited spinners on Crabbes River. Only flies with barbless hooks may be used to fish for Atlantic salmon on scheduled rivers such as Crabbes River during the open angling season.
With more than 100 DFO officers, 90 fisheries guardians and 36 aboriginal guardians working along with the provincial inland fish and wildlife officers on duty and the watchful general public, Burton said poachers should think twice about trying to fish illegally.
“There are a lot of people out there watching them and looking around,” said Burton. “If these people take it upon themselves to break the law, they should consider we are there to prevent them from doing so.”
Tips from the general public are always welcome and useful, but Burton said it is always more beneficial to an investigation if information is provided before the poaching activity occurs.
“Timing is important for providing information about poaching activity,” said Burton.“It’s still good to know information after the fact, but it’s more difficult for us to collect evidence and charge someone then.”
Anyone who sees or suspects poaching activity can call CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).