Striking a balance for fishing with bait

By MPP Toby Barrett

In my travels around Haldimand and Norfolk, and through media stories, I am hearing there is a renewed interest in people harvesting their own food.

From more people gardening to a huge increase in sales of fishing rods and reels, people want to be more self-reliant. 

For anglers, live bait is important for success – especially for new or young anglers.

With 1.2 million anglers, and more than 250,000 lakes, it’s no surprise there is demand for minnows, leeches and worms in Ontario. These anglers generate $1.6 billion in economic activity, and the bait industry alone is worth more than $23 million.

However, moving bait between lakes increases the threat of transferring unwanted invasive species or disease. The province’s bait management strategy – the latest update was posted on the Environmental Registry recently – is a balance between satisfying demand from anglers, the economic impact of bait harvesters and stopping invasives. 

As Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry from 2018-2019, I was tasked with seeking input to help implement a bait management strategy that is environmentally sustainable while being amenable to bait harvesters, bait dealers, and sportspeople.  I tabled six roundtables with stakeholders in Kenora, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Kingston, London, and Barrie.  This provided a better understanding of the industry and was the basis for the next step for the recently-released bait management strategy.

A common thread at each roundtable was the previous government’s Strategic Policy for Bait Management in Ontario.  It was universally panned by industry as offering inadequate, or unworkable “solutions.” And there would also have been impacts for anglers.  One of its suggestions, which harvesters and anglers were against, would have required anglers to keep their paper receipt for bait while fishing, no matter where they were fishing in the province.

That being said, I’ll add that anglers do have a responsibility to ensure they don’t unknowingly transfer disease or invasive species.  The Baitfish Primer, available in both hard copy and a mobile app, is a good resource to help alleviate any confusion between legal species and invasives.

The largest change with the new strategy will be the establishment of four bait management zones across the province. This will limit the movement of most bait to the same bait management zone where it was harvested for both bait harvesters and anglers. 

Individual anglers who wish to use live bait outside of their own bait management zone will be required to purchase bait from a licensed commercial bait operator in the zone where they will be fishing. They will also be required to keep a receipt to show they purchased the bait in where they are fishing when outside of their home zone. Within their home zone, retaining a receipt is not required. 

Coming out of COVID, there will be many aspects to the province’s economic recovery. For example, the boom in Lake Erie pickerel numbers has made this the best place to seek this popular species. It not only provides a great local food source, but also will be a big tourism draw coming out of COVID. The renewed interest in angling will be one part of the province’s economic recovery.