Proposed bait policy to bring big changes for anglers and businesses
By Steve Galea
Published June 6, 2017
A proposal by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry that would change the way live bait can be collected, distributed and kept in Ontario is the target of a petition making the rounds at local bait shops.
Keith Hodgson is distributing that petition (which opposes the proposed changes) in Haliburton County. At press time, Norm Parrott of Outdoors Plus in Haliburton says as many as 400 people have signed it in his shop alone.
Hodgson, a 64-year-old Haliburton native, has made his living trapping and selling live bait in a sustainable manner for the last 52 years. He is one of six or so live bait trappers in the region and one of the longest serving of 1,100 commercial bait licence holders in the province.
The proposed changes he opposes are outlined in the province’s 40-page Strategic Policy for Bait Management in Ontario. Those changes are meant to prevent diseases or invasive species from being introduced by way of bait bucket, holding tanks or harvesting gear and are also designed to curtail the introduction of native fish, such as rock bass, perch, pike and crappie, into waters where they might displace other species such as trout.
Hodgson agrees with the goal, but feels the proposals are not enforceable. He also says they place the onus on the wrong group.
“Bait trappers are already highly regulated, educated and experienced in the identification and legal transfer of live bait,” he said. “I think more responsibility should be placed on anglers. The bait collection industry is a small target. The bigger picture is public education.”
Hodgson would like more education and public awareness so anglers understand the dangers in emptying holding tanks, live wells and dumping live bait buckets. According to the report, there are more than one million anglers in Ontario and 60 to 80 per cent use live bait at some point during the angling year.
Hodgson says proposed restrictions would affect his livelihood and likely cause minnows shortages in the county, especially during the ice fishing season, which could affect tourism as well.
“There will be no emerald shiners,” he said, referring to a favourite minnow of local ice anglers. “And ice fishing businesses and small bait shops will be hard-pressed to get live bait.”
Parrott says the proposed changes would have a huge affect on his business. “Once hunting season ends and the lakes freeze up, live bait pays the bills,” he said. “We’ve already been told that there will be no more shiners from Lake Simcoe and they are 75 per cent of our live bait business.”
He points out that he has never had an invasive species minnow in his store due to the expertise and reliability of Hodgson. “He is a well-respected and by the book kind of bait trapper…”
Parrott says he sees the day when live bait will no longer be allowed in the province. Ontario remains one of the few Canadian jurisdictions that allow the use of live bait.
Among other things, the proposal would create six bait management zones (BMZ) in Ontario and make it illegal for bait commercial operators to transport bait out of the BMZ in which it was harvested. There would be exceptions in the north and in BMZs that border the Ottawa River.
The proposal also calls for all transactions involving bait to be accompanied by a receipt that clearly states the name of the seller/business, location and date of where and when the bait was sold.
Anglers would then be required to keep those receipts as proof of the place of origin of their bait.
They would also be regulated to produce that receipt to a conservation officer for two weeks following the purchase and legally dispose of commercially harvested bait after two weeks.
Other recommended changes include a ban of live bait in all native brook trout lakes and in wilderness, nature reserve, natural environment, waterway and cultural heritage class provincial parks. The document also calls for standardized training for bait fish operators, and restrictions and record keeping in angler bait collection among other things.
The Strategic Policy for Bait Management in Ontario can be found at http://apps.mnr.gov.on.ca/public/files/er/strategic-policy-for-bait-management-in-ontario.pdf and is open for public comment on the province’s Environmental Registry until June 27.
To comment on the EBR posting, go online at www.ebr.gov.on.ca and visit posting 012-9791. Petitions can be signed in most bait shops in Haliburton County.