| Mar 22, 2012

A meeting in Northbrook on Monday night, March 19, which was set up to talk about new Walleye and Bass regulations, turned into a broader discussion about the fishery and the limitations of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources

Ed Giffin is the former owner of Tumblehome Lodge on Crotch Lake and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters representative to the Fisheries Advisory Council for Fisheries Management Zone 18. The advisory committee has come up with new Bass and Walleye regulations, which they hope to see implemented for the 2013 fishing season. It fell to Giffin to handle questions about the proposed regulations, some of which he handed off to two biologists and one manager from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources’ (MNR) Bancroft office.

The proposed bass regulations call for a three-week increase in the length of the bass season, including starting the season one week earlier, on the third Saturday in June, and ending it two weeks later, on December 15 instead of November 30.

Based on data that has been collected over time on the lakes within the massive zone, the MNR has concluded that the Bass population is “abundant and provides quality angling opportunities.” The management goal therefore is to maintain the current population levels for Bass and the research has shown that allowing fishing to start one week earlier will not have a significant impact on spawning success. The possession limit for Bass will remain at six with a sport fishing license, and two with a conservation license.

The Walleye fishery is not as healthy as the Bass fishery, and the stated goal of the new regulations is “to increase the Walleye population and improve future walleye angling and harvesting opportunities.”

The current regulations for Walleye include a four fish limit, with only one Walleye larger than 46 cm (18.1 inches) being permitted.

Because most successful Walleye reproduction comes from older, larger females, the two proposals for new regulations both employ what are known as harvest slot options.

Option #1 limits the harvest size to between 35 and 45 (14 to 18 inches) centimetres, and Option #2 limits the harvest size to 40 – 50 cm (16 to 20 inches). In either case the catch limit will remain at four fish with a sport fishing license and two fish with a conservation license.

The Walleye season will remain the same, opening on May 15 and closing on March 1.

The idea behind the slot limitations is to lessen threats to the survival of younger fish (under 35 or 40cm, depending which option is chosen), and to eliminate fishing pressure on the females that do survive to the mature reproduction phase in order to promote an increase in numbers of Walleye over time.

According to the information provided by the MNR, “Habitat improvements and other non-regulatory programs alone are unlikely to increase Walleye populations”.

Members of the audience, which included a number of long time sports fisherman, many of whom are members of the Conservationists of Frontenac Addington (COFA), were not upset with the imposition of limits to their fishing opportunities. On the contrary they were more concerned that the regulations alone would not bring about a recovery to dwindling Walleye stocks in local lakes.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of regulations you bring in, if you don’t have the resources to enforce them they won’t do anything to preserve fish,” said Jim Walker of Kirk Kove Cottages and Marina on Big Gull Lake.

With the elimination of a provincially appointed conservation officer based at Bon Echo Park, there is now only one conservation officer in the entire zone, which extends from just south of Bancroft to Belleville, to the east all the way to the Quebec / Ontario border between Cornwall and Fitzroy Harbour, and northwest to Renfrew and Pembroke.

Another issue, which was of concern to people at the meeting but was outside of the scope of the advisory committee, according the Ed Giffin, was the fact that all Walleye stocking programs have been suspended.

Ron Pethick, the President of COFA, prepared a written response to the regulations. Until five years ago, COFA carried out a Walleye fry stocking program, by harvesting eggs from Walleye in the Bay of Quinte, raising them to the fry stage and then stocking lakes in Frontenac and Addington Highlands. According to Pethick, COFA’s success rate was almost four times higher than eggs hatched in the wild.

According to Pethick, “Releasing fry should be the stocking method of choice.” Skootamatta Lake was the last lake that COFA was allowed to stock and the last time they stocked it, the adult Walleye population increased.

The MNR has not permitted COFA to stock Walleye fry since 2007, saying the practice was ineffective and that mixing fish from the Bay of Quinte with local fish populations could pose a threat.

“Stocking programs is something that has come up at our meetings,” said Ed Giffin, “and hopefully it is something that we can look at.”

Pethick and others also took aim at the proposed slot sizes, saying they will continue to harm the fish stocks in local lakes.

“Allowing people to catch fish just before they reach the stage where they will be most productive, will only cut down on the number of larger fish. I submit that if I catch and keep four females in the 18 inch size I will have done much more to deplete the Walleye population than if I keep only one, as is the current regulation,” said Pethick.

Ed Giffin took his own shot at the way fishing regulations are being enforced.

“It seems like it is down to the OPP to do enforcement, but they enforce everything else except for over-fishing. They are concerned about the type of bailing pails that are in the boat, the state of the whistle, whether all the boating and fishing permits are up to date, whether the oars are long enough - everything but fishing,” he said.

A public survey was handed out at the meeting and is also available online. To access it go to Ontario.ca/zonecouncils, look to the middle of the page and click on FMZ 18. Look for Fisheries Management Options Questionnaire on the page that comes up.

The survey deadline is April 12, 2012.


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