The Ministry of Natural Resources once again has extended the deadline for public input into proposed cuts to fish limits—this time to give sportsmen’s clubs a chance to reassess “new, more accurate information.”
Scott Lockhart, an area biologist with the MNR in Kenora, said yesterday that people now have until late March or early April to offer their views on the proposed changes, which include reducing the daily catch limit for walleye, bass and northern pike from six fish to four.
The deadline, which was Jan. 5, had been extended from the previous deadline of Dec. 5 due to the postal strike late last year.
Lockhart said the extended deadline stemmed from public “misinformation” that non-resident anglers account for about 85 percent of the sportfish harvest.
Rather, he said that figure was “site specific,” and in some cases, that number was reversed vis-a-vis the harvest by resident anglers.
“The overall average, from the information [MNR’s] Bev Ritchie had summarized, showed the non-resident fishing effort was about 65 percent region-wide as an average and not 85 percent,” he noted.
“And if you look at some of that site-specific information, it was probably less than that,” he continued, adding the numbers were derived from a provincial sport-fish angling survey for the Northwest region back in 1990.
Based on this “new” information, the Dryden sportsmen’s club, which initially opposed the cuts, have agreed to re-visit the proposed changes with its members.
Meanwhile, Lockhart said he was pleased with the number of survey forms that had been received by the committee (made up of the MNR, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, and the Northern Ontario Tourist Outfitters) as of Jan. 4.
He estimated that number to be in the “500 range.”
“That’s a fair number, and that’s probably more than what I was expecting, and the general feeling seemed to be good public support to proceed with some new regulations to protect the fishery,” he added.
Here in Fort Frances, the local MNR reported receiving a total of 80 replies.
Lockhart estimated “about 275-300" replies supported the package, and that there were "quite a few others” who would support the proposal with minor changes made to it.
He admitted the debate appears to have changed from the proposal’s original intention of protecting the fishery to whether residents or non-residents are catching most of the fish.
But he stressed that may be straying away from the real issue of sustaining the quality of the fishery for the future.
“We’ve now shifted our focus to who’s harvesting [the fish] but we need to move beyond that,” Lockhart stressed.
Gord Pyzer, district manager for the Ministry of Natural Resources in Kenora and one of the leading proponents in the reduced fish limits, was in meetings earlier this week in Peterborough and could not be reached for comment.
But in past interviews with the Times in recent weeks, Pyzer has maintained the proposed reductions would only be implemented if public response was in favour of them.
Committee spokesperson Bill Straight stressed that philosophy continues to be in place. And while stressing the changes would not be in place for this year, he said there was no harm in extending the deadline.
In fact, Straight said the decision to extend the deadline was based on a couple of reasons.
“First of all, the [OFAH] requested a bit more time so the various clubs could become more fully informed, and particularly with a lot of misleading information being provided early in the process, I think that’s really tended to emotionalize issues out of proportion,” he noted.
“The other reason is that a lot of folks basically said there’s no rush to do this. They really wanted some time to look at this,” he added.
Rick Socholotuk, a member of the Fort Frances Sportsmen’s Club who now sits on the committee, agreed it was a good idea to extend the deadline so more people had a chance to express their views to the ministry.
In fact, he said the extra time would go a long way in helping many of the clubs absorb the new information and make concrete responses to the proposal.