The melting puts an end to the smelting

Mitch MacDonald
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The early arrival of mild temperatures has put an end to the smelt spearing season.

Mild temperatures and a lack of ice have already ended the smelt spearing season.

The higher-than-usual temperatures this winter are not getting much love from those involved in P.E.I.'s smelt spearing industry.

While the spearing season officially runs until the end of March, mild temperatures and a lack of ice have already ended the season.

Harvey MacNevin, who fishes in the Alaska River area of Percival Bay, said most smelt fishermen in the area have already brought in their shacks for the year.

"I wish it had of been colder. Everybody loves this winter, but I don't," said MacNevin. "I got quite a few (smelts) but the ice, you couldn't trust it too long and we had to take it (the shack) in a couple of times when we had a mild three or four days.

"You don't want to be laying in bed in the middle of the night wondering if it's still on the ice."

The most popular way to catch smelt on P.E.I. is through the ice in winter, with many estuaries and bays being lined with smelt shacks.

Pictures posted online this year have shown some not-so-lucky fishermen's shacks which did break through the ice.

David MacEwen, P.E.I.'s manager of marine fisheries, said most smelt fishermen are cautious about their shacks and work in sync with conservation and fisheries officers.

"Nobody wants to lose a shack, some of them take a lot of pride in them," said MacEwen. "Those in the industry are pretty aware and if a mild spell is coming, they'd usually pull the shacks off the ice."

MacEwen said he's heard mixed feedback from smelt fishermen over the season.

"Anecdotally, it was hit and miss, like most fisheries," he said.

Aubrey Arsenault, who ice fishes in Summerside, said he probably had 25 days in this season before taking his shack off near the end of February.

"When we had good weather and the water was clear, it was real good fishing," he said. "With rain spells, you get runoff from the land and the water gets dirty... so some days it wasn't too bad and other days it was real good."

He said it was one of the shorter seasons in his 40 plus years, although still considered it to be successful.

"Hopefully it will be a little longer next season, but all in all it was good," he said. "We got a fair amount of fish and it's a very enjoyable sport for the winter."

MacNevin also said that last year was colder, it was actually worse for smelt fishing due to the heavy snow.

"It was a terrible season, the ice would sink with the weight of the snow," he said. "This year, the ice was thin but it was clean and didn't sink in."

Geographic location: P.E.I., Alaska River, Percival Bay Summerside

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