Fisheries conference a learning experience

Growing up, fishing has always been the activity that I have been most interested in since I was six or seven years old.
I was fortunate that my family had a camp out on Lake of the Woods, in Echo Bay, on the west end of the lake.
The camp was in close proximity to Shoal Lake and the Clytie Bay Landing at the north end of Shoal Lake was only a five minute drive down the road so in addition to getting to fish on Lake of the Woods, I was introduced to Shoal Lake and the excellent fishing out there at a young age.
It was an honour for me last week when I was invited to come and speak at the Third Fisheries Conference being put on by Iskatewizaagegan (Shoal Lake 39) First Nation.
Shoal Lake resident Karen Kejick has done a fantastic job organizing these conferences the past few years by bringing in speakers from all over North America to share their experiences from distressed fisheries in Manitoba, Minnesota and eastern Ontario.
The significance of the conference comes from the fact that the walleye fishery on Shoal Lake was closed back in 1983 due to a collapse from overharvest by both commercial fishing and sport anglers.
Kejick is representing Shoal Lake and many of its residents who feel that the fishery should be reopened to allow both sport fishing and commercial fishing.
Some would say she has a good argument because most anglers who fish on Shoal Lake for bass and pike never seem to have a problem catching walleyes, indicating that the population has recovered and is healthy, 35 years after the closure.
That would be my feeling but I am not a biologist.
OMNR representatives were also at the conference and did a nice presentation.
Their data indicates that the fishery has not fully recovered and that opening it to fishing while it is still in a fragile state would devastate the walleye population again.
I give Karen Kejick a lot of credit for creating a platform where discussions are taking place over the Shoal Lake walleye fishery.
After attending a couple of these conferences I see all of her hard work and feel for her because it’s unclear if anything is ever going to happen.
Shoal Lake 39 wants to create a situation where they police themselves with regard to the commercial fishing on Shoal Lake, a program that has worked well in other parts of North America, including Lake Nippissing in Eastern Ontario and Red Lake, Minnesota.
For anybody that sport fishes, the last thing that we want to see are any nets in our lakes.
Attending these conferences has taught me more about commercial fishing and that there are people that make their living from it.
Personally, I would prefer it if there was never another net dropped into any of our lakes but if set quotas for fish are not surpassed and the fishing is done in a responsible manner then the fisheries can sustain some commercial netting.
My hope is that if the walleye fishery is opened at Shoal Lake that we don’t see the “out of control” netting that has been well documented in the Sioux Narrows/Whitefish Bay area of Lake of the Woods over the past few years.
Nets are being put out in fragile locations without any thought of conservation and many are being left in the lake to never be picked up.
Dozens of these nets have been found and pulled from the lake, full of dead rotting fish over the past couple of years by good friends of mine.
When sport anglers and folks who rely on the tourism industry that revolves around our world-class fishing see these abandoned nets it obviously creates a negative response to commercial fishing so hopefully those who set these nets start to have some regard for where they place them and make sure they return to get them.
The OMNR has my support in whatever decision they come up with regarding Shoal Lake.
Hopefully more research can be done and we can all enjoy the great fishing and scenery to be found at Shoal Lake in the future.