Ontario is considering liberalizing regulations in some portions of the province, a move that could have catastrophic consequences for its smallmouth bass fisheries.
“I strongly believe that allowing a ‘catch and keep’ season during the critical winter period, pre-spawn, and spawn could have serious impacts on bass populations,” said Jason Barnucz, conservation director for the Ontario B.A.S.S. Nation.
“Even through the ice, bass can be targeted,” he continued. “It is easy to locate wintering schools of smallmouths in Canadian lakes.”
While many acknowledge smallmouth bass as valuable to recreational fishing in Ontario, a vocal minority are calling it “invasive” and harmful to species such as lake trout, and that’s the source of the controversy, Barnucz explained. In some of the areas where it is now targeted, such as Zone 10 bordering the Great Lakes, he added, the smallmouth actually is a native species.
Meanwhile, what is being proposed for Zone 5, which borders Minnesota, is “extremely troubling,” according to Gord Pyzer, one of Canada’s most notable anglers and a former senior manager with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).
“A small group of folks, who are opposed to bass, have persuaded the MNR to include (for review) the option of killing four bass, less than 35 centimeters (14 inches) in size, every day of fishing during the critical winter and spring spawning periods. In other words, from Nov. 30 to July 1,” he explained.
Such a regulation, he continued, runs counter to the findings of scientists such as Dr. Mark Ridgway and Dr. David Philipp, which indicate that targeting bass in the winter and when they are spawning harms both the overall bass population and the age class structure.
“Quite simply, the research is very clear that there are absolutely no redeeming qualities when anglers fish for bass in the winter and during the spawn,” Pyzer added.
Indeed, Dr. Philipps’ research in southeastern Ontario, where the bass season is closed during the winter and spring, shows that in some lakes 100 percent of the nesting males exhibit hook wounds and were the season to be open, it is conceivable that the entire population of spawning males could be killed and harvested.”
Echoing Barnucz’s observation, Pyzer said a “small pocket of anglers” have attempted to hijack fisheries management because “they do not like bass and wish to see bass eliminated from the lakes and rivers in the region, despite the fact that bass have been present in northwest Ontario for more than 100 years.”
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)