The Border Waters Coalition admitted the province’s decision to drop its law requiring non-resident anglers to stay overnight in Ontario in order to keep walleye and sauger was a “finger in the dike”—and one forced upon them after mistakes by Canadian lawyers in 1995.
But it was a decision that had to be made in order to resolve a NAFTA trade challenge by Minnesota, the coalition told delegates attending the annual fall meeting of the Northwestern Ontario Tourism Association last Friday in Emo.
“This happened to be the best solution and we were looking at this for a month-and-a-half,” said Randy Hanson, who sits on the Border Waters Coalition, which made recommendations to the Ministry of Natural Resources.
“It didn’t solve the problem but it was the best solution we could come up with. Our federal people were asleep . . . yes, [the decision] will hurt us.
It was the best of a bad situation,” Hanson added. “In our lifetime or yours, it might not make a difference but it will slow them [the Americans] down.”
Shawn O’Donnell, president of the Fort Frances Sportsmen’s Club, and Tom Pearson, owner of Camp Narrows on Rainy Lake who also sits on the Border Waters Coalition, agreed they had to drop the overnight rule under pressure from the U.S Trade Representative.
“If this was to go to court, it would have opened up other losses,” O’Donnell remarked.
Pearson argued that under the current NAFTA agreement, all of Ontario’s resources—from moose to bear—was “wide open” for the Americans to “go after everything.”
Besides dropping the overnight requirement, put in place to conserve a depleted fish stock, Ontario also is eliminating the Border Water Conservation tag. In return, it passed new daily catch and possession limits for non-resident anglers.
Non-resident anglers now face a daily limit of one walleye or sauger (and a possession limit of four) on Rainy Lake and a portion of the Seine River system.
They also have a daily limit of two walleye or sauger (and a possession limit of four) on the Lake of the Woods and the waters of the Fort Frances District (except for Rainy Lake and a portion of the Seine River system).
“We hope the two will slow them down, and we will gain in the long run,” said Hanson.
Betty Wires, with the Ministry of Natural Resources in Kenora, said it was “absolutely essential” that all non-residents be treated the same in terms of obeying catch restrictions.
As reported in last week’s Times, Minnesota also made some compromises, dropping its trade challenge and agreeing to reduce the daily limit of walleye/sauger on Lake of the Woods from 14 to eight (although, in effect, it only lowered the sauger limit from eight to two; anglers can still take home six walleye).
Meanwhile, the question remains—will the new catch and possession limits for non-residents hurt area tourist camp operators? Hanson doesn’t think so.
“In a few places it may hurt but it won’t hurt anybody a lot,” he said. “It may be a problem for some. Yes, they may lose business.”
But while most of the operators agreed with the forced changes, some did voice their concerns.
“It’s punishing some of our best customers,” argued one man. “It’s creating problems all over the district and it’s affecting my customers.”
Hanson agreed businesses may have to alter their marketing strategy but said many of the operators have been doing that for the past several years.
“I’ve lost customers because I’ve suggested that the success of the trip shouldn’t be based on the weight of the cooler,” he stressed. “Most people coming here want to catch fish here [and] they don’t care if they kill that fish.
“My concern is that they need this amount of fish at this stage, then they shouldn’t be [up here fishing],” he added.