OFAH staff are in Ottawa today (May 30, 2022) for Great Lakes Day. In-person events on Parliament Hill have been all but non-existent throughout the pandemic, so this represents one of the first opportunities to return and engage Parliamentarians on key issues. While that might sound boring to some, these types of events are needed to keep topics on the radar of decision-makers. It might seem odd that the Great Lakes, home to more than 20% of the world’s freshwater, would fall off anyone’s radar, but it happens more than you might think.
If you fish or hunt on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, then you already know how special they are. The fisheries are diverse and often unique to the basin, and when considered together, they offer some of the best freshwater fishing in the world. Hunters across the whole region benefit from the importance of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence to migratory birds, while some of the coastal areas like Long Point, Rondeau, and Lake St. Clair are revered as bucket list destinations for waterfowlers.
Forming the entire southern boundary of our province, the shoreline of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence has long been a gateway to the fishing and hunting passions of many Ontarians. We are incredibly fortunate to have these resources on our doorstep. Even if you don’t fish or hunt on them, it’s easy to see why healthy Great Lakes are so important.
The OFAH doesn’t have a Great Lakes ‘program’ per se, and to my knowledge we never have. But that doesn’t mean the OFAH hasn’t long recognized its value to anglers and hunters, and conservation in general. The lakes are big, and many issues and interests seem even bigger. It’s easy to get caught up with a single issue or a localized concern to the point where even lake-wide interests don’t get connected with the bigger Great Lakes picture. As we prepared for Great Lakes Day, I took a step back to view the whole scope of work we do on the Great Lakes to realize how much we are invested, even if our work doesn’t have a made-for-marketing handle or a hashtag to go with it. I’m thinking maybe it should, but I’ll let you decide.
Before I get into more about the relationship between the OFAH and the Great Lakes, check out this explainer video we created in partnership with the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission in 2021:
OFAH and the GREAT LAKES
For decades, the OFAH has been a key player in discussions about the policies and practices in and around the Great Lakes that continue to advance conservation in the basin. It might be obvious that we are all-in with representation on all the Fisheries Management Zone councils that drive fishing-related policy in the Great Lakes, as well as many other councils, committees, and groups that advise governments and agency work that directly influence our fisheries. If there are policy discussions about fishing and fisheries management, then we try to be involved from the ground floor right through to political advocacy if need be. Sometimes it even starts at the political level to get attention for the Great Lakes. It could be Great Lakes Day, or something else like the Great Lakes-focused pre-budget consultations we recently participated in.
In addition to fishing-related discussions, we engage in broader Great Lakes dialogue to make sure that fishing and hunting are well represented, but also to drive a general conservation agenda on the overall health of the Great Lakes. We are actively involved in an advisory capacity with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, participate on three binational subcommittees for the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and have representation on Ontario’s Great Lakes Guardian Council. Issues like invasive species, climate change, microplastics and chemicals of concern, nutrients and harmful algal blooms, and numerous other issues have been high priorities on our conservation agenda. These issues transcend fishing and fisheries.
But we don’t just talk the conservation talk on committees and in board rooms. We do non-stop provincial conservation outreach and get out into communities with programs like Travelling Tackleshare. For three decades, the OFAH has been a leader on invasive species through the Invading Species Awareness Program, tackling many Great Lakes issues to help keep species like Asian carps out of Canadian waters.
We also aren’t afraid to get our hands dirty with habitat work by OFAH programs like the Lake Ontario Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program and the volunteers of OFAH member clubs in and around the Great Lakes, as well as controlling invasive species. While restoring the habitats needed to sustain healthy fisheries, we do restoration stocking of Atlantic Salmon in Lake Ontario, and support community stocking efforts in each of the Canadian Great Lakes through the Community Hatchery Program. And the OFAH’s work in the Great Lakes isn’t limited to supporting fishing opportunities. We partner with the province and member clubs to maintain world-class waterfowl hunting at Darlington, Long Point, and Rondeau Provincial Parks.
What we can’t do ourselves, we help others to do. We’ve offered countless research grants to graduate students and supported science projects related to fish and wildlife conservation in the Great Lakes. And we partner and provide support to other groups working on the Great Lakes.
So, you see that we don’t have a Great Lakes program, but the advocacy, public outreach, on-the-ground conservation, science and research, and fishing and hunting support programs the OFAH is known for all have an emphasis on the Great Lakes. We can’t help it. The Great Lakes are critical for fish and wildlife conservation in Ontario, and they are ingrained into our fishing and hunting culture and identity.
The Great Lakes may have a special meaning to anglers and hunters in this province, but that doesn’t mean we should assume that the value is obvious to everyone. Even though 98% of us as Ontarians live within the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River basin, most have never truly experienced them or appreciate how important they are. Millions of people turn on the tap for drinking water, with many not realizing it is made possible by the Great Lakes or connected waters. Even fewer of us realize the modern importance of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence in transporting goods and raw materials to support essential marine commerce that serves our province’s farmers, manufacturers, and economy. This disconnect can’t be ignored.
And then there is the enormous diversity of plants and animals, some of which are not found anywhere else on earth. We’ve talked about how important this is to anglers and hunters, but conserving these ecosystems, these habitats, and these species is important to everyone. As a province, we need healthy Great Lakes. As a nation, we need healthy Great Lakes. As people, we need healthy Great Lakes.
In a time of polarization on just about every issue, the conservation of the Great Lakes continues to bind a diversity of groups and individuals together. And this is why the OFAH is converging with provincial and binational partners, including the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, Ontario Commercial Fisheries’ Association, and Pollution Probe, on Parliament Hill with shared priorities for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.
It’s refreshing to find so much commonality without looking too hard, but it’s also rewarding to know that many of our core conservation concerns for the Great Lakes are shared by so many and with the same level of passion that we have. It not only validates the importance of our interests but also reminds us that wecan wield considerable power when we forge diverse partnerships where our circles intersect. To read our shared priorities, click the image below: