Illegal Salmon Release at Lake Camp in the Canterbury high country
I read a report in the Christchurch Press by Rachel Young dated 5 April 2014 about the strange presence of Chinook salmon in Canterbury’s Lake Camp. For those readers unfamiliar with this lake, it is a smallish lake in the Ashburton group, a couple of hours drive up into the high country from Christchurch. This lake only ever contained trout; until recently that is, when anglers began reporting to Fish & Game that they were also catching Chinook salmon. The strange aspect of this story is that Fish & Game, the body tasked with managing our freshwater sports fisheries had no part in releasing salmon into this lake. So how then did the salmon get there?
It seems to me that there are only two possibilities. Either the sudden presence of salmon in Lake Camp in the result of divine intervention; or they were released into the lake by a person, or persons, unknown. According to Central South Island Fish & Game Region boss Jay Graybill, this can only be the result of an illegal release!
The salmon could not have traveled there on their own as this is not physically possible. There are no inlet or outlet streams by which such an introduction could have occurred naturally. Obviously, someone, has transferred, these salmon to Lake Camp from elsewhere. Presumably, this has been done by someone who disagrees with Fish & Game’s stocking policy! This sort of willy-nilly introduction of different species into our waterways is quite rightly a very serious breach of the Conservation Act. Imagine the massive damage that could be done if members of the public were permitted to randomly introduce, carp, catfish, and god-knows what else, into any water they felt like!
Fish & Game have carried out set netting in Lake Camp to determine the extent of this illegal introduction and have determined that there are probably hundreds of salmon in the lake. The salmon caught in the nets measured on average 250mm in length and were probably near two years old. Fish & Game have removed some of the salmon but there is no way to remove all of them.
The remaining salmon will be unable to find anywhere suitable to spawn so those not caught by anglers will all die out over the next couple of years! The reason there are salmons in places like Lake Coleridge is because Fish & Game make continuous introductions every year. It is interesting to speculate on where the salmon illegally released into Lake Camp came from.
We know that there are hundreds of them. This would indicate they were probably fingerlings or larger at the time they were released. Surprisingly small salmon will take a hook. They are much more readily caught than trout. If they had been in Lake Camp earlier their presence would surely have come to light sooner. This in turn suggests a degree of sophistication and knowledge regarding the sourcing and transportation of the young salmon.
Another possibility is that small juvenile salmon were being caught the previous summer by anglers who released them because they were under-size believing them to be trout because at that stage they would still have had spots!