Lake of the Woods changes called ‘step in right direction’

The Ontario government’s announcement last week to force non-resident anglers to practise catch-and-release for walleye and sauger on Lake of the Woods and Rainy River was a “step in the right direction,” the president of the Fort Frances Sportsmen’s Club said yesterday.
Shawn O’Donnell, who’s also a member of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, alluded to the fact a joint task force involving Canada and the U.S. was formed three years ago with the intent on reducing a harvest that had increased significantly over the years.
But instead of reducing that catch to an agreed upon 8,000-pound limit, the harvest actually increased to 25,000 in 1996 (up from 14,000 in 1994).
The task force recommended that if Minnesota was unable to voluntarily reduce its harvest of Ontario walleye within the three-year time frame, the province could consider other ways of reducing the harvest.
Natural Resources minister John Snobelen outlined Ontario’s plans to implement a zero harvest for walleye and sauger by non-Canadian anglers who choose not to stay overnight in the province and who hold a Border Waters Conservation Tag.
The current restrictions of two northern pike, two bass, 10 crappie, and one lake trout still apply.
“We need this measure to help protect the long-term health of this world-renowned fishery,” Snobelen had said in making the announcement.
“We’ve worked hard to convince Minnesota to reduce the harvest of Ontario walleye and sauger but haven’t been successful,” he argued.
“So we must take this step to ensure continued economic, recreation, and social benefits for the people of Ontario.”
“This will be a protective measure to help the longevity of the fishery and protect the fish stocks,” agreed O’Donnell. “Americans are avid fishermen and if there’s an opportunity for them [to fish], they’re going to use it.
“Right now there are no benefits of those [anglers] fishing and then leaving,” he added.
Lake of the Woods area supervisor Scott Lockhart said this new regulation was needed to be put in place to protect a fishery that was showing definite signs of stress with regards to its walleye and sauger populations.
But he also stressed Minnesota anglers were still more than welcome to travel into Ontario and fish for other species.
“Everyone is still welcomed and encouraged to travel over and fish for pike and smallmouth bass, and sit back and enjoy the scenery,” said Lockhart from his Kenora office yesterday morning.
“The south end [of the lake] was in a state of decline so something had to be done to reduce the harvest.”
And Lockhart also warned this is not a regulation intended to penalize the Americans. In fact, he said resident anglers also may face changes that would reduce catch limits for walleye and pike from six to four.
“What we’ve seen so far with the review is that most people would be in favour of some sort of changes,” he said, adding those changes probably would be in place by next January.