Time is of the essence

Dear sir:
I have written the following open letter to Tourism minister Cam Jackson.
Mr. Jackson, I am writing to urge you, as minister of tourism, to get involved now in the border waters fishing issue in Northwestern Ontario. So far the job of publicly defending the conservation of Ontario’s fish stocks has fallen mostly on local officials of the MNR. Minnesota perceives this as a weakening of position on the part of the Ontario government.
This issue is now at a critical stage–as minister of tourism, you must get involved in a public way.
As minister of natural resources in 1993-95, I authored the original changes in fishing regulations on Lake of the Woods, Rainy Lake, and other border area lakes and rivers in 1993. The goal then–and now–must be to conserve and properly manage Ontario’s fish stocks so they will be plentiful for our future generations and future use.
We can’t allow the federal government’s fiasco with the Atlantic cod and Pacific salmon to be repeated in Northwestern Ontario.
Because I was so closely involved with the initial fishing regulation changes, I am aware of all of the policy options that were available to me as minister then, and are available to our government now.
In 1993-94, there were two serious fish conservation problems in Northwestern Ontario. The first was the proliferation of unregulated northern Minnesota tourist resorts that insisted on having their guests fish the Ontario side of the lakes–thus overfishing Ontario’s waters, particularly in the case of walleye.
Second, northern Minnesota-based anglers fishing independently, and not through a Minnesota fishing lodge, insisted on fishing Ontario lakes as well, resulting in even more overharvesting.
In 1993, the best policy option to deal with these two related problems, and reduce the overharvesting of walleye, was to prohibit all non-resident anglers from taking walleye from Ontario waters unless they were staying at an Ontario resort, park, or campground. That regulatory change has been enormously successful in reducing the overharvesting of walleye, and has led to a dramatic improvement in walleye populations on Rainy Lake.
We are now at a different stage in this battle, however, and you and other members of the Ontario government need to put your thinking caps on. The individual Minnesota-based angler is not a big problem now; in fact, many of the resident anglers of northern Minnesota actually sing Ontario’s praises because they see how well the changes in fishing regulations have worked, and how much the walleye stocks have improved, particularly on the Ontario side of Rainy Lake.
Rather, the main opposition to Ontario’s fish conservation strategy now is a handful of northern Minnesota tourist camps (some of which have been convicted of overfishing violations in the past) that are trying to change a “conservation issue” that they can’t win–because of their bad past practices–into a “trade and tourism issue” and challenge it under NAFTA.
The five or six Minnesota tourist resorts call themselves the “Border Waters Coalition.” Most of them are located on the Lake of the Woods, with one or two are on the Minnesota side of Rainy Lake. They speak only for themselves; no one else.
Since Minnesota is trying to change what is truly a “conservation issue” into a “trade and tourism” issue, Ontario’s tactics must be changed slightly to fight off this most recent Minnesota threat. If Northwestern Ontario fish stocks are going to be conserved and properly managed, you, as minister of tourism, must become involved in this issue now. Specifically, you must first ask your officials and MNR officials to give you a description of all policy options that were available to Ontario in 1993-95 and are still available to your government today.
I know one of these options would completely collapse Minnesota’s NAFTA challenge and would allow the excellent work on conservation of Northwestern Ontario’s fish stocks to continue unimpeded.
Make that regulation change now.
Second, you must insist that the Ministry of Tourism get back into the business of issuing “tourism licences,” particularly in the case of tourist operators involved in the harvesting of fish and wildlife. Any tourist operator who deals in resource-based tourism (the harvesting of fish, hunting of deer, moose, etc.) must meet stringent fish and wildlife conservation practices.
If they don’t, they shouldn’t get an Ontario tourism licence.
By insisting on those standards for our own tourism operators, particularly in Northwestern Ontario, the failure of northern Minnesota resorts to live up to good fish conservation practices once again will become the real issue. And by emphasizing their conservation failures, Northwestern Ontario fish stocks can continue to benefit from the good protection and sound conservation strategies they deserve.
I cannot say this strongly enough: time is of the essence.
Put your thinking cap on–it is not enough just to be tougher than Minnesota, you must also be smarter. As I have pointed out, there is a policy option available to you–as it was available to me in 1993–that allows you to be both tougher and smarter at this time.
But part of being smarter than Minnesota involves the Ministry of Tourism getting back into issuing tourist licences again. It is almost criminal that someone can be in the tourist business in Ontario now without meeting strict fish and wildlife conservation rules.
Above all, recognize this issue involves more than just a few border communities in Northwestern Ontario. This issue is important to all the people of Northwestern Ontario and, ultimately, all of Ontario.
What we started in Northwestern Ontario in 1993 was a new conservation ethic, a new way of protecting and conserving our resources that ultimately will be for the good of the whole province.
Don’t let it fall apart now.
Howard Hampton,
Kenora-Rainy River MPP