by Charlie Dennis
One of the stories that sticks out in my mind happened a few years ago. Blair and the Guardians were involved in a project by EFWC and sponsored by Nova Scotia Fisheries at the request of the angling community. Rainbow trout is an introduced species that was affecting the native population of speckled trout. Anglers requested that they be allowed to keep rainbow trout they caught to reduce the threat to the speckled trout population.
For a few years, discussions took place at meetings and in the communities and finally, it was agreed that a survey should take place to collect information before this initiative could happen. Data collection would make sure it proceeded in the right direction. As you know, there was a good-sized population of speckled trout to be considered.
Since there was an active smelt fishery in the winter, it was decided that this would be a good time to record what was being caught by ice fishermen in various locations. In the past, nobody had ever studied the number of smelts being caught through the ice or the number of different species. At that time it was difficult to get information from anglers because of mistrust, people presuming someone was keeping an eye on them or what they were catching. In general, information was scarce, but it was important to know the numbers before proceeding.
Well, getting back to our story…it was decided that someone had to collect information and that Guardians in our Mi’kmaq communities would be ideal to do the job. The Guardians agreed to interview fishermen in the field. Very little training was involved and their approval was a key to success of the project.
Many stories came out during the process and choosing just one was very difficult. Blair Bernard had a great interest in fish and wildlife. One thing everybody knew about Blair was his gentle way of speaking and talking to people. He was well respected in both native and non-native communities.
One of the areas surveyed was MacAulay’s Cove near Big Harbour Island (Malagawatch). If you’re familiar with this area, there is a bridge and a sharp turn about three kilometres before you get to the turn-off to Mala. There is a small cove on your right before you cross the bridge. During the winter people flock to this cove because of the shelter from prevailing winds. Ice fishermen love it. It is close to the road and they can easily get to their vehicles to get warm.
If you’re driving by, you can see all kinds of things fishermen use to keep comfortable. Fishermen believe in comfort and some go out of their way to build huts and different types of chairs from milk crates, buckets and boxes.
Getting back our friend Blair, he would interview anglers and record their catches. One day Blair interviewed a group of fishermen at MacAulay’s Cove. The fishermen were very cooperative and even offered Blair some cooked, fried smelts. “Go inside the hut and help yourself to a feed of smelts,” was the word he got. Of course, when you offer Blair seafood, be prepared for the consequences.
After a while, the fishermen decided to join Blair in the hut. They went inside and asked Blair where the five dozen smelt they prepared were. Blair commented, “You offered them and so I had a feast and that was it.” All the fishermen could see was the heads and tails of the fish, like you see in a cartoon where a cat has feasted on its favourite meal. That was the big story that was talked about for quite awhile in the angling community!
The final conclusion from the surveys was to allow anglers to keep rainbow trout, but not the speckled trout. I recently spoke to Dan MacLean from Nova Scotia Fisheries in Pictou and he commended the fine work that Blair and the Guardians did, saying it was the main reason the rainbow trout fishery is in place.