A renewed proposal for the bait fish industry

By MPP Toby Barrett

Anglers, bait harvesters and others involved in Ontario’s live bait business can provide input into the future of the industry through the online Environmental Registry until November 14.

Ontario’s bait strategy is a balancing act between reducing the risk of spreading aquatic invasive species as well as fish diseases, and the health of Ontario’s fishing and bait industries. Ontario’s fisheries contribute more than $2.2 billion dollars to the provincial economy and create jobs equal to 41,000-person years annually.  The contribution of the bait industry is also significant, with an estimated value of $23 million a year.

When I was Parliamentary Assistant to Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, I conducted well-attended listening sessions across Ontario and received hands on advice from the industry. We held roundtables in Kenora, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, London, Barrie, and Kingston. As a backdrop, the last government released a proposal that was not well received by bait harvesters and anglers. My job was to listen to those in the industry, to advise on a policy that will increase business certainty for harvesters and increase protection for the fisheries.

A game changer has been the discovery of viral hemorrhagic septicemia [VHS] in the Great Lakes in 2015, and in Lake Simcoe in 2011. As a result, MNRF imposed restrictions on the movement of bait. One area in particular where it is a problem is Lake Simcoe. Baitfish from the area is shipped north to supply ice fishing all winter. As a result, the ministry came up with a compromise to allow minnows to move north from a few harvesters with the proviso they were tested for VHS first.

Bait harvesters raised a multitude of issues, and recommendations at the meetings. They discussed, among other items: the need for a bait association to communicate as an effective block, bycatch of non-bait species particularly in Lake Erie, bait receipts for wholesalers and retailers, electronic reporting, bait restrictions, bait management zones, angler education, licenses, promotion of bait shops, and enforcement.

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters also attended and put forward many solid recommendations for consideration. 

Changes suggested in the draft strategy include:

  • Movement of both purchased and personally-harvested baitfish and leeches is limited to four bait management zones
  • Anglers can personally-harvest and move their bait within the zone of their primary residence without additional documentation
  • Anglers who use bait outside of the bait management zone of their primary residence would be required to purchase their bait in the zone where they are fishing. They would be required to keep a receipt on hand to show proof of purchase location. The proof of purchase would remain valid for two weeks. Anglers who fish and use bait in their home zone do not need a receipt
  • The list of eligible baitfish species is reduced to only those 34 species that anglers and commercial operators typically use and sell
  • The use and storage of bait is prohibited in native brook trout lakes
  • no changes to the use and harvest of bait in provincial parks
  • minor changes will be made to commercial bait licences

Through this process, Ontario continues to take steps to protect the province’s lakes and rivers from the threat of invasive species and fish diseases while keeping the baitfish industry open for business.

Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk