Fish care top priority at EWC

There’s already a waiting list of anglers eager to secure a spot in next year’s Emo Walleye Classic, spectators regularly fill the Emo-La Vallee Community Centre for the daily weigh-ins, and lining up volunteers for the annual event has yet to present much of a problem.
But it’s maintaining a bountiful supply of walleye in the Rainy River that might be the biggest key to ensuring the long-term success of the Emo tournament and others like it.
That’s where volunteer Pete McQuaker comes in.
“They’re my main concern—those fish,” said McQuaker, a longtime Emo resident. “That’s a part of our natural resources. It’s like any of the rest of our natural resources, we’ve got to preserve them.
“It’s got to be sustained,” he stressed.
When McQuaker offered to lend his services to help make the first-annual EWC a go, he wasn’t sure exactly what capacity he’d be used in. That’s not the case any more.
He’s worked hard to learn the basics of caring for the fish and takes his job very seriously. After all, he believes everybody has a stake in ensuring the river’s walleye population is not impacted by the annual catch-and-release event.
“I think everybody has a concern over the fish, how they’re handled, how they’re taken care of and their safety, and getting them back in the lakes and the rivers,” said McQuaker, who does not compete in tournaments but likes to hit the water and make a few casts himself every now and then.
“The anglers, myself, the public, I think everybody is concerned about that.”
This year, the 60 teams participating in the EWC combined to reel in a total of 254 walleye. And how many of those made it back to the Rainy River unharmed? Every one of them.
It’s the second-consecutive year the EWC has wrapped up the weekend without losing a single fish.
“That’s always a proud moment for me,” said McQuaker. “It feels good, it’s great.”
In fact, only three fish have died since the inaugural EWC in 2002. And McQuaker is hoping that total will remain intact for many, many years.
“We pride ourselves in striving for zero tolerance,” he noted.
Of course, McQuaker doesn’t work alone. It takes a number of volunteers to retrieve the fish from each team’s live well, move them through holding tanks, across the stage to be weighed in, and then into another tank where they wait to be released back into the Rainy River.
Each of his dedicated helpers knows their job and does it well, McQuaker said.
“I’ve got a really, really good team working with me,” he remarked. “They all understand. They realize the importance of keeping the fish in good hands and good health.”
Lionel Robert, a former fisheries biologist who emcees the EWC, said McQuaker and his crew always do an “excellent” job of
Please see “Fish,” B5