Fish derby spawns chorus of complaints

NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton has joined in the growing outcry over a U.S.-organized bass fishing derby that’s being held in Canadian waters later this week.
“I tried to point out how unfair this is,” Hampton said Tuesday morning about his appeal to Natural Resources minister Jerry Ouellette to put a stop to the Denny’s Super 30 Rainy Lake Invitational running here Thursday through Saturday.
“There are two or three things the minister of natural resources could do,” Hampton said. “It would be very easy for him to say this morning that the tournament is not approved by [the] MNR.
“He can do that, and he should be doing that if he wants to be called the minister of natural resources,” he charged.
In a letter to Ouellette, Hampton said the minister must act now or risk seeing an explosion of U.S.-based tournaments depleting Ontario fishing resources on Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods.
“Unregulated American sportfishing tournaments on our border lakes will not benefit the pockets of Northwestern Ontario tourist operators. Rather, they will give our region nothing but noisy boats and fewer fish,” Hampton wrote.
Hampton also called on Ouellette to protect Northwestern Ontario anglers, outfitters, and natural resources with a tax law penalizing U.S. companies that use Canadian resources to fund their operations.
“We all agree that we should be good to our neighbours. But we would all be alarmed if our neighbour took our lawnmower without our permission and then rented it out to make money,” Hampton said.
“That’s exactly what’s happening now and it must be stopped.”
As first reported in last week’s Times, Edina, Mn. resident Denny Nelson decided to move the tournament he’s held near International Falls the past three years to this side of the border because of what he says is the better quantity of fish available here.
But local naturalist and sportsmen’s groups believe it will open the door to a flood of U.S.-based fishing derbies in the area, which they say could devastate the area’s bass stocks.
“This sets a scary precedent,” said Jeff Steinke, president of the local Crossroute Forest People’s Alliance. “This is a road we don’t want to take.
“We’re fearing for our resources. It’s a situation of ‘derby fever’ in many areas in the U.S., where many of these places have boat docks that are clogged with fishermen.
“People better start thinking about the consequences of this,” he warned.
Steinke said he has no problem with the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship being held annually here, but added there’s no guarantee any of the U.S. derbies that may come to the region will be as well-controlled.
“This could be disastrous for tourism here if the fish stocks collapse because we have derbies here every weekend,” argued Steinke.
“It’s almost a shock that this has been allowed to get as far as it is,” he added. “But we checked with MNR for the rules and regulations for fish derbies in the area, and there doesn’t seem to be any.”
Linda Wall, Rainy Lake area supervisor with the MNR here, said the ministry is concerned about the number of bass tournaments in general being held on Rainy Lake, but added Nelson appears to be following proper channels in holding his event.
“As long as a person or organization is not breaking any laws, our position is neutral,” Wall said Tuesday. “To our knowledge, the Rainy Lake Invitational follows existing legislation.”
Requirements for participating in the three-day tournament include having a Remote Area Border Crossing Permit and an Ontario fishing licence if the competing angler stays in Minnesota, said Nelson.
Meanwhile, Henry Miller, president of the Fort Frances Sportsmen’s Club, is worried the derby could disrupt the schooling regimen of the lake’s smallmouth bass.
“It’s a bad time of year to be fishing bass because if you take them away from their fall resting area, they might take all fall to get back [there],” Miller warned.
“Some of them, most likely the bigger ones, will perish on the return trip.”
Miller said his club will have boats in the competition area this week “just checking to see what’s going on.” He also said an official demonstration was a “possibility, but not a certainty at this point.”
Steinke said his group also plans to take “an active role” in showing its displeasure with the Rainy Lake Invitational.
Bill Morgenstern, president of the Rainy River Valley Field Naturalists, didn’t commit his group to being on hand, but said the length of the bass fishing season should be shortened.
“It should be all catch-and-release after Sept. 1,” he said. “This is to protect the fishery and prevent considerable harm to the habitat.”
Nelson was not available for further comment as of press time Tuesday night.