| Jan 17, 2008

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Feature Article - January 17 2008 MNR seeks a way out of “Unintended” bait restrictions by Jeff Green

Bob Leonard, (l) of Leonard's Hatchery, and Randy Hillier Conterring with MNR officials.

Members of a newly formed association of bait harvesters and sellers called the “Eastern Ontario Outdoorsmen”, accompanied by LFL&A MPP Randy Hillier and supporters from the Ontario Landowners Association (OLA), filled a conference room at the White Lake fish hatchery on a blustery Monday morning to discuss bait restrictions that came into effect on January 1.

Instead of defending the new bait regulation, which says bait shop owners cannot sell bait over 5” long, Alex Gardner from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), started the meeting by saying the bait restriction was an “unintended regulation for which the MNR is accountable.”

The regulation was included in the new fishing guide that was published by the ministry in late November. The guide included some major changes to fishing regulations, including a reduction of the number of fishing zones, which had already sparked concerns among the bait harvesters at the meeting.

“There were 5,500 changes to the regulations, and a few things were missed,” Gardner said. “There had been a regulation about lake herring in some of the zones that became Zone 18, and this regulation got selected out of a toolbox. We are here today to talk about what changes we can make to it. There has been a lot of discussion about this at the MNR. We have been looking at this for a month and a half.”

Earl Kerr, a bait harvester and shop owner from Perth, spoke on behalf of the Eastern Ontario Outdoorsmen. “My first question to you is,” he said to Gardner, “Is it the ministry’s mandate to orchestrate the closing of the bait industry in Ontario? Are you trying to shut us down?”

“The answer is no,” Gardner responded.

Kerr, and others, went on to say that the bait size restriction is only the latest in a series of measures that they consider detrimental to their industry, without any resulting improvement in fishing conditions.

The new fishing zones, restrictions on the number and size of fish that can be kept, and the prohibition on selling frogs and crayfish at bait shops are all measures that Kerr and others noted have had an impact on bait sellers and the fishing industry in general.

“The MNR’s real concern is with the gorge hook, which rips the stomach of large fish and makes it impossible to release the fish,” Gardner said. “Does anyone here object to a prohibition on the gorge hook?”

Everyone shook their head.

Chris Brosseau, an MNR official from Peterborough, said “The problem is, the regulation exists. We can’t just say it does not exist. And fishing regulations are federal. This is not something we can do today.”

Alex Gardner said that it will take some time for the ministry to consider all of the issues that had been raised at the meeting, and that a public meeting should be set up in a few weeks time where options for changes could be presented.

At that point MPP Randy Hillier intervened, saying that the pressing issue is to reverse the restriction as soon as possible.

“We need a commitment from the MNR that this regulation will be cancelled,” he said. “A letter can go from the MNR to the Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans saying ‘we made an error’”.

Hillier said he would contact Scott Reid, his federal counterpart, to request that the Department of Fisheries deal with this matter urgently.

Alex Gardner, from the MNR, said he would be reporting back to the minister’s office after the meeting, and said he would let people know what was going on by the end of the week.

The Eastern Ontario Outdoorsmen, a new affiliate of the Ontario Landowners Association, described the meeting as a “small victory over the MNR” in a statement released hours after the meeting. They remain bitter about measures that have been brought in by the ministry, however.

“Tourism is down in some places by over 50% or more and this is not the time to bring in so many restrictive regulations, which will only drive more tourists from Ontario,” the press release also says.

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