| Mar 23, 2006


Feature Article - March 23, 2006

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Feature Article - March 23, 2006

Concerns over newWalleye regulations

by JeffGreen

As the deadlines for comment on two sets of provincial fishing regulations approach, fishing-related tourist operators are expressing concerns that new rules will lead to a further decrease in cross border tourism.

One new regulation, slated for implementation in 2007, is designed to simplify current regulations. It will reduce the number of fishing zones in the province, and establish regulations that are applicable throughout each fishing zone, replacing a system whereby different rules applied to individual lakes.

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) argues that having rules that apply to particular lakes has become a cumbersome system that they cannot manage with the resources that are available to them.

“The current focus on individual lakes is a costly and ineffective way of managing the resource. Due to the high cost of managing individual lakes, this approach does not adequately consider sustainability and other resource management concerns for the vast majority of water bodies in the province” says the preamble to the new regulations on the MNR website.

Backstage_antics

Bob Leonard has operated a small fishing lodge on Bobs Lake for over 35 years, and operates a fish hatchery and bait business with his son Wade. They have a wealth of experience in walleye stocking, and know much about the walleye population in many of the lakes in Frontenac County .

Wade Leonard says he has maintained a good working relationship with the MNR for years, and says, “I understand the need for regulations, and the need to change regulations that aren’t effective.” However, he has several concerns about the proposed new regulations.

One of his concerns is about the new Fishing Management Zones, particularly Zone 18, which will extend east-west from the Quebec border to the border between Hastings and Peterborough County , and north-south from the northern boundaries of Lennox and Addington, Frontenac and Lanark Counties all the way to the shores of Lake Ontario . The zones are part of what the ministry calls its new “landscape” approach, recognising that if fishing is limited by regulation on one lake, anglers will go in larger numbers to a neighbouring lake, affecting the populations there.

“The climate in the northern part of the zone is not the same as the southern part,” says Leonard, “and fish do not spawn at the same time around Kingston as they do on northern lakes. It doesn’t make sense to have one fishing season for north and south.”

Bob Bergmann, a fisheries biologist with the MNR, acknowledged that spawning patterns are “different in the northern parts of zone 18 than they are in the south.” He said that in determining the zones the ministry looked at political boundaries as well as climactic considerations, and said, “We know the zones are not perfect, but they are the best we could do, and that is why we may bring in exceptions to account for differences.”

One of the stated goals of the new regulations is to protect, and hopefully enhance, the populations of certain species that the Ministry of Natural Resources scientists have concluded are under stress.

Aside from establishing new zones, there is a separate regulation that is applicable only to walleye, which is the favoured fish for American anglers who travel to Ontario , and has been the subject of a multi-year “state of the resource study” by MNR staff.

A letter from the Minister of Natural Resources, David Ramsay, addressed to Bob Leonard, said that the MNR study “confirmed the poor status of Walleye populations in southern Ontario and the need for action to remedy the situation. The proposed Walleye regulations were developed using this information. We want to stop the decline in fishing quality that has been identified by the public over the past several years.”

To do so, they have set out four possible scenarios for size limitations on the walleye that anglers will be allowed to keep. One of the proposed options would prohibit anglers from keeping fish that are less than 50 cm. (19.7”) long. A second would prohibit them from keeping fish that are longer than 40 cm. (15.7 inches). Two other possibilities involve establishing protected slot limits, either from 40-65 cm. or 35-55 cm. In either of these scenarios, anglers will be permitted to keep fish that are either shorter or longer than the restricted range. Although the four scenarios vary greatly, the ministry argues that they would all lead to the same result: a healthier walleye population with a better range of fish of various ages.

Wade Leonard said he would hate to have to choose any of the above options, because they all have failings, and would have different impacts on different lakes.

“From a biological point of view, we were always taught that it is best to keep the fish alive until they are ready to spawn,” Wade Leonard commented, “so in that sense a 50 cm. minimum would be the best option, but it would be better around 45 cm. The real problem, however, is that this single rule will be applied to all of the lakes within the zone. In some cases it may be beneficial, but in many cases it won’t at all.”

Wade Leonard also takes issue with the science that underlies all of these new regulations. The Ministry used something called FWIN (Fall Walleye Index Netting) on a representative sample of lakes to determine the overall health of the walleye populations in different parts of the province. In the south, the result was 2.8 walleye per net, which compares to 6.4 in the Northeast and 10.7 in the Northwest.

“The low abundance of walleye in the south can likely be attributed to the higher prevalence of stressors, including higher angler effort, compared to walleye populations in the north,” concludes an MNR state of the Resource report.

Wade Leonard argues that if the MNR is going to come up with a drastic scenario, they should conduct the best possible science to come to that conclusion.

He mentioned that the State of Minnesota , which invests heavily in their walleye fishery, uses four different techniques to determine the health of their walleye population.

“I don’t think the MNR used the best possible science to come to their conclusions,” he said.

His own assessment of the lakes he has been involved with, suggests that walleye are dong well on some, poorly on others.

This leads him to the conclusion that the streamlined approach, and the insistence that a single set of walleye regulations throughout a zone as large as zone 18, is wrongheaded.

The timing of all this is a huge extra problem, according to Wade Leonard.

Walleye are the main sport fish for US tourists to Ontario . Wade Leonard points to a fisheries study that showed that non-resident anglers (primarily US citizens) catch 20 million walleye in Ontario each year, while Canadians catch 24 million. When walleye catch is compared to Trout, of which Ontario anglers catch 46 million annually and non-residents 2 million, the significance of walleye to fish-related tourism is clear.

A tourism study in Frontenac County showed that 61% of spring visitors come to fish, and 27% of summer visitors come primarily for fishing, so the significance of walleye to Frontenac County ’s economy is clear.

Fears about potential decreases in US tourism due to the high Canadian dollar and new security restrictions in the US lead Wade Leonard to argue that, “Bringing these new regulations in now could be a terrible blow to the economy of Frontenac County . At a time when we should all be working together to improve our rural economy, this is not what we need from the province.”

Wade Leonard will be meeting later this week with MPP Leona Dombrowsky, who has already forwarded some of his concerns to Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay.

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