There are more than 1.4 million anglers in Ontario and 60 to 80% of them use baitfish; however, overcoming ecological risks associated with baitfish is inherently challenging. Unwanted introductions via the baitfish pathway of invasive and non-native species, pathogens and diseases, threaten our fisheries.
So how can we protect our fisheries while maintaining the long-standing ability to use baitfish?
In 2022, Ontario’s Bait Management Strategy will be implemented, which will divide the province into four Bait Management Zones (BMZs) meant to restrict the movement of baitfish. As we see it, adding BMZs and regulations on top of the existing 20 Fisheries Management Zones makes navigating regulations in Ontario even more complex. Anglers will be able to purchase and harvest baitfish in the BMZ they live in, but in BMZs outside of where their primary residence is located, anglers must purchase baitfish and will be required to retain a receipt to show where and when they bought it. Receipts will be valid for two-weeks, after which, unused baitfish will need to be legally disposed of. At best, this may produce marginal gains, and while the receipt system is impractical, requiring anglers to throw out unused bait is also a waste of resources.
There are some positive steps we can get behind, like removing invasive species lookalikes from the list of eligible baitfish species, but the Government acknowledges anglers have difficulty following Ontario’s current bait rules. Before layering more restrictions, we need innovative, non-regulatory solutions that prioritize education, outreach, and awareness to get at the root of the problem. The OFAH’s government priority to increasing the number of Conservation Officers was heard, but we contest other enhancements are needed to better conserve our fisheries while balancing angling traditions.
You can learn more about the Bait Management Strategy and the OFAH’s recommendations at www.ofah.org/bait.
— this article was originally published in the fall issue of Just Fishing Magazine, w/ “Big” Jim McLaughlin. Click the image below to check out the full issue.