"There's this one guy gets a booking every day," says a disgruntled Gasp� fisherman. "How does he manage that?" There are wild guesses in the town as to the number of people Boulay has calling 800-462-5349 each morning—up to 30 or more. In reality, he'll tell you, he just uses his two secretaries and his sales manager. Sector 2 can fish six rods, and at the beginning of the season the first caller lucky enough to get through could reserve all six, which was clearly inequitable in a plan meant to provide fishing for all the locals. Now the booking limit is two rods, but there is still a lot of discontent.
In Gasp� last winter, at a town meeting convened to discuss new arrangements, fishermen were told that there would be a rotation system. "It was supposed to be, you'd get so many days' fishing, then you'd quit," recalls Edsel Langlais, who was the manager at the club when the Dartmouth was in private hands. That apparently sensible plan fell through when the citizens' committee, which was going to handle the fishing on a local basis, decided that it didn't have the time or the money to administer the scheme. So the government itself, only six days before the season opened, was compelled to take over the running of the Dartmouth.
"The government is prepared to give the river back to the local people next year should they want it," says Yvon Fortin, who is the assistant manager for both the Dartmouth and the Saint John. But that doesn't seem likely at the moment, and the telephone booking system will continue. Meanwhile, all-comers' fishing is available without reservations on Sectors 1 and 3 of the Dartmouth—residents pay $6 a day and outsiders $12—but fly-fishing for Atlantic salmon is virtually impossible under the crowded conditions that are inevitable when there is no limit on the number of anglers who have the right to fish a pool. "I was there on the $6 stretch at 3:30 on the morning of opening day," says Jean Marc Adams, "and there were nine anglers ahead of me fishing the pool. I went home."
But even under conditions so crowded that only a New Zealand fly-fisherman accustomed to "picket line" fishing on the Taupo stream mouths could cast a line and keep out of trouble, isn't this system fairer than the old one? It would seem that this might not be entirely the case.
Until this year, for more than half a century the Dartmouth fishing had been leased by the same family: first by a Canadian industrialist, Jules R. Timmins, then by his brother-in-law, Senator Donat Raymond. Recently the lease has been held by Ken Reardon, a defenseman for the Montreal Canadiens in the 1940s, who married into the family. And for Gasp� anglers, certainly in recent seasons, there was no question of being kept off the river. "To give you an example," says Edsel Langlais, "the first year I was on the river, Mr. Reardon fished until July 1st and then he left it up to me to bring in guests. I brought in 97 that year, mostly local but some were from Montreal. They paid nothing except the guide's fee." Anglers from nearby, in fact, found it fairly easy to get invitations—far easier than making a successful call to 800-462-5349.
Moreover, Langlais also points to the economic advantages of the old private-leasing system. "Last year," he will tell you, "it cost $68,000 to operate the club, and all that money was spent locally on food, supplies and wages. That may not sound like much but it is very important for a little town like Gasp�. And the guests also used to leave a lot of money here." Certainly, no tourist angler from far afield would now be foolish enough to plan a Dartmouth fishing trip under the present booking system, and there is clearly a loss to the district in terms of tourist income.
Langlais was one of the 14 people who lost jobs when the Dartmouth Club closed down. The handsome wooden buildings are still there but unlikely to be used again. "In too much disrepair," says Yvon Fortin, though a superficial inspection shows them to be sound except for a few broken screens and the encroachment of forest flowers and tall summer grass. Perhaps no one felt the blow more strongly than Lionel Adams, who for 25 years was a guide and river guardian. "I had a worrying time," he admits, though he and Langlais were luckier than most. Langlais works for the Quebec lottery that is helping to pay off the Olympic debt, while Adams is now a laborer for the government. In all, seven of the river guardians have found new jobs; the others are still out of work. "We're not guardians anymore," says Adams. "They have men who come from Quebec to look after the river. They don't know the Dartmouth and it's going to take a long time for them to learn."
Quebec has drafted 10 conservation officers to replace the 14 former guardians and, locally, much concern is expressed over the poaching problem. "It's not enough men to look after the river," Adams claims. "We were 14, yet we had a lot of walking to do, a lot of ground to cover. For instance, we had two men who were always posted in the upper reaches of the river, but there is nobody up there now."
Questioned, local government officials assure you that poaching will soon be a thing of the past. Yvon Fortin claims that already there has been an 80% improvement, but when pressed to justify this figure he will tell you it is based on "what we see." It is the government's belief, because people now have the right to fish, theoretically anyway, that poaching will soon be extinct. Asked if $2 per pound wasn't still an attractive proposition to illegal salmon netters, he said the government department of conservation had everything under control. This did not prevent a department control trailer from being overturned by a gang of poachers early this season, however. Four went to jail, but the evidence is that they have plenty of colleagues. American anglers visiting the neighboring York River this season claim that a net had been set for a week before it was located and that some salmon in the river showed net marks.
There can be no question, of course, of going back to the old system of private leasing on rivers like the Dartmouth, and it is clear that existing leases on other rivers are more and more likely to be taken over in the not so distant future. But what concerns serious salmon anglers, and in particular the Atlantic Salmon Association, is that in the wrangle over public or private rights it is the salmon itself, already a threatened species, that is likely to suffer. In its journal, The Atlantic Salmon, the association points out sadly that "generally, protection and management on Government rivers have...received less attention than under private or leased regimes." Given adequate money and professional assistance, it might well be that locally administered fishing will prove better in the long run for the salmon than distant control by the Quebec government; the limited experience of this first season on the Dartmouth certainly points to that. Meantime, as the ASA points out, a formula based on common sense must be arrived at, one that takes into account the inescapable fact that unlimited, open fishing is self-defeating and that the privilege of fishing for Atlantic salmon brings with it a major responsibility for the species.