Alberta's ice fishermen could be treading on thin ice with the law.
The Alberta Conservation Association is warning anglers of the potential legal ramifications of drilling holes on a frozen lake and casting a line during Alberta's long winter months.
"The likelihood of being charged is very low, but the severity of being charged is very high. If you do get charged, then manslaughter is the likely result," said ACA President Todd Zimmerling.
For years ACA members have aerated Alberta's shallow lakes but have scaled back the program after a warning from their lawyers.
Zimmerling says the agency could be held liable too, even charged with manslaughter, if someone were to accidentally fall through ice on a lake that is being aerated.
"It raised a lot of flags for us," Zimmerling said. "No one has been charged with relation to holes in ice, but people have been charged in relation to holes in the ground. So excavation (and aeration) are under the same section of the code. And that's really been the issue.
"That's a lot to risk for anybody."
Zimmerling thought posting signs warning of the potential dangers of drilling was enough to ensure their due diligence under the law, but they have been told otherwise.
Zimmerling says the language used in section 263 of the Criminal Code is so prohibitive that the ACA is making an effort to have it changed.
"We'll approach the federal government and see whether or not they can make some changes to the wording.
"We're not the only ones that aerate ponds, so there are a lot of groups out there with potential liability."
In the meantime, the ACA has modified their surface-aeration plan, adding platforms and temporary fences at their excavation sites.
Of the more than 800 fishable lakes in Alberta, many are prone to winterkill. An early freeze, combined with a heavy snowpack, can rob a lake of oxygen, and Zimmerling says aeration is an important tool to keep fish populations viable.
"It was frustrating, because we were initially looking at new lakes that we could aerate, and get more fishing opportunities for Albertans."