Poachers target spawning salmon

These salmon carcasses have had their bellies slit, were gutted for their eggs and left to rot on the riverbank. photo by André Leblanc

Spawning female salmon targeted for their eggs at Michael’s Bay

TEHKUMMAH – Central Manitoulin fishing enthusiast and Expositor columnist Andre Leblanc made a gruesome discovery on the banks of the Manitou River near Michael’s Bay recently: salmon carcases that had been gutted for their eggs and left to rot during their crucial spawning season.

On September 21, Mr. Leblanc attended the well-known Tehkummah spot to try his hand at fishing Michael’s Bay. The nearby river from the mouth up is currently closed to anglers and is considered a fish sanctuary due to its duty as crucial spawning grounds for the salmon population of the area. There, on the side of the riverbank, lay three large salmon that had their bellies slit and their eggs removed, likely for bait purposes. The rest of the meat was left to spoil. There was evidence of other salmon carcases that had been stripped of their meat and strewn on the grass.

Mr. Leblanc admitted to being overwhelmed with a feeling of disgust at the sight of the dead fish. “It brought me right back to when I was dating my wife and we saw the same thing on the Mindemoya River (at Providence Bay). That actually stopped me from fishing for many years.”

When Mr. Leblanc shared this finding with his class at Central Manitoulin Public School, one student produced research that shows that one female Chinook salmon will produce between 4,000 and 13,000 eggs. These eggs translate into future fish and a stronger fishery for Manitoulin waters, one that many depend upon for their livelihoods.

“It’s absolutely disgusting, and it happens every year,” said Dave Patterson, organizer of The Manitoulin Expositor Salmon Classic. “People are harvesting fish eggs from spawning salmon for bait, and those fish aren’t coming back.”

On a personal level, Mr. Patterson said he refuses to target salmon after late August as the meat becomes no good for eating, “so what are they doing with those fish anyway?” he asked.

“Four or five big salmon is potentially a couple of hundred salmon that would have returned to that river,” Mr. Patterson added. “Those fish bring millions of dollars to Manitoulin’s economy.”

“Those aren’t fishermen, they’re poachers,” he added, encouraging anyone who sees anything untoward to report it to the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry.

The incident is currently under investigation by the ministry.

“(Ministry) Conservation Officers are currently investigating this matter which took place on September 21, 2021, before 5 am near the mouth of the Manitou River, on Manitoulin Island,” a statement from CO Iain McGale reads. “If any member of the public who may have information regarding this occurrence are encouraged to contact the MNRF Tips Line toll free at 1-877-847-7667. You can also call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS.”

CO McGale said possible offences could include ‘angling by other means’ and spoilage.

“As this matter remains under investigation, I am unable to provide any further comment at this time,” the CO said.

Mr. Leblanc said he wished there was better signage, marking the area as a fish sanctuary. He said he returned to Michael’s Bay this past weekend to fish and had to inform three separate groups of people that they were fishing in a sanctuary, unbeknownst to them. They all thanked Mr. Leblanc for letting them know and moved on to a suitable fishing spot.