| Aug 03, 2006

Feature Article - August 3, 2006

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Feature Article - August 3, 2006

MNRmodifies proposed Walleye regulations

by JeffGreen

For the past year, tourist operators, fishing-based businesses, and anglers have been concerned about indications the Ministry of Natural Resources will be bringing in restrictions to walleye fishing that would have the effect of decimating the recreational fishing industry in Eastern Ontario .

Last Friday, the MNR announced interim regulations which will come into effect next year.

As of 2007, on all lakes in the newly created zone 18, covering a large swath of land north of Lake Ontario , the catch limit for walleye will be four fish, only one of which can be over 45.7 cm (18 inches) in length. The fishing season will be changed as well, running between May 15th and March 1st.


These interim regulations, which will remain in effect until 2009, according to an MNR spokesperson, are less restrictive than either of four options the MNR brought forward for discussion last year, and came about after intense pressure by the OFAH and others. The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters lauded the decision by the MNR to opt for this less restrictive catch limit.

In a media release entitled “Walleye anglers off the hook for major regulation changes”, the OFAH said, “Changes will help address the OFAH and MNR’s mutual concern for southern Ontario ’s declining walleye population without placing unnecessary restrictions on walleye anglers.”

As recently as early last week, an article endorsed by the OFAH appeared in the August issue of Ontario Out of Doors Magazine. The article was written by Andrew Houser, a former MNR Director of Fish and Wildlife, and was entitled “Let them eat bass: there won’t be any keepers after the Southern Ontario Walleye Review.”

Based on what he had learned, Houser said that the MNR had chosen to restrict walleye fishing to a limit of four fish, none of which can be between 40 and 65 cm long, which Houser said meant that “there won’t be anyone keeping a walleye in southern Ontario starting next year.”

The MNR apparently changed their plans between the publications of Houser’s article and the announcement of the less restrictive regulations.

Aside from announcing the regulation changes, the MNR also announced that Fisheries Management Councils will be established for each of the 20 fishing zones in the Province.

Chris Brosseau, of the Fisheries section of the MNR, acknowledged in a telephone interview with the News that the limitations do not go as far as the MNR had originally been planning. He said that the “fisheries zone councils that are being established to enhance stakeholder input, will have, as one of their first tasks, to look at whether the interim regulations are effective. If we need to move ahead, we will do that in 2009.”

Adnrew Houser’s critique of the MNR was not restricted to fishing regulations. In lambasting the MNR for the way they are addressing the problem of decreasing walleye stocks in southern Ontario, Houser wrote “I believe everyone agrees that walleye fisheries are under heavy pressure from a variety of sources: habitat loss and degradation; invasive species such as crappie which predate heavily on young walleye; and fishing pressure.”

To deal with these factors, Houser says the approach should include “a variety of management actions including regulations, stocking, and habitat management. The Ministry toolkit, however, includes only one tool regulations.”

It appears the MNR will be using the Fisheries Zone Councils to do the things that Houser is calling for.

“In addition to reviewing the steps needed to rebuild walleye populations, councils will provide advice on recreational fisheries management, including planning, habitat rehabilitation, regulations and stocking,” says an MNR release that accompanied the new regulations.

Andrew Hauser doubts that the MNR will be able to successfully manage the walleye fishery, and one of the reasons he cites is under-funding.

“MNR’s fish and wildlife program has been dying on the vine because of lack of funding. The fisheries regulatory review suggests that the MNR has reached the point where it no longer has the resources to operate, consult and deliver effectively,” he wrote.

Walleye stocking has become problematic locally. The Conservationists of Frontenac Addington, for example, shut down their walleye hatchery this year after the MNR discouraged them from carrying on walleye fry stocking that they have been developing over several years.

“Stocking with walleye fry basically has no impact at all,” said Chris Brosseau of the MNR.

The OFAH does not agree. “The OFAH believes that there is a lot of worthwhile effort in stocking” countered Robert Pye, an OFAH spokesperson.

The MNR also announced they will be investing $13.2 million in the Dorion fish hatchery “which provides egg and yearling fish for waters across northwest Ontario ,” their release said.

Chris Brosseau said that the fish that are developed at the Dorion hatchery will not be restricted to northwestern Ontario . “The fish culture system is truly a provincial system,” he said, “stocking in the south will be similar to the north.”

At one time the MNR used to purchase yearling walleyes from Leonard’s Bait and Hatchery, a private operation based in Hartington, but those purchases no longer take place.

According to Bob Leonard, any change to walleye regulations, be it new zones or catch limits, is going to hinder a tourist-based industry that has already been decimated by factors not related to fisheries, such as the high Canadian dollar and the new passport regulations that are pending in the United States.

“Our bait business is down by 50% this year, and that is what other people are saying as well. Any new restrictions at this time will be very serious for tourism in Frontenac County . The Americans won’t come.”

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