Shrinking Lake Nipissing pickerel stock worries fishermen

The dwindling pickerel population on Lake Nipissing has people who fish for fun and those who fish for a living blaming each other.

Debate between First Nation commercial fisheries and recreational fishing rages on

The dwindling pickerel population on Lake Nipissing has people who fish for fun and those who fish for a living blaming each other.

But both sides agree that something has to be done — and soon.

Commercial fisherman Corey Goulais has noticed that he is pulling fewer pickerel out of Lake Nipissing — and he fears he soon might have to find a new line of work.

Corey Goulais, front, cleans fish in a Nipissing First Nation processing plant. The commericial fisherman says he's noticed he's pulling fewer pickerel from the lake and worries that he will have to find different work in the future. (Erik White/CBC)

"That day is coming. That day is coming for sure," he said. "It's getting down there. If they want to protect what fish are there, something's going to have to be done."

Commercial fishing on Nipissing is different because it's managed by Nipissing First Nation and not the Ministry of Natural Resources.

Anglers say that's what has to change, while Nipissing First Nation says it’s sport fishing that's uncontrolled.

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters says the problem is commercial fishermen like Goulais.

"We're very close, in my professional opinion, to the worst case scenario, as a result of commercial gill-net overharvesting," said Terry Quinney, a biologist with the federation.

Unlike the rest of the province, these commercial fishermen are licensed by the First Nation and not the provincial government — something Quinney said has to change.

"We know that the only successful formula is that all users be licensed [and] all users be regulated."

But Nipissing First Nation executive director, Dwayne Nashkawa, balked at the accusation that the fishery is unregulated.

He said his community has passed a fishing law and employs enforcement officers and biologists.

"I would disagree with that completely," Nashkawa said.

"We have a robust management regime here. We don't claim that it's perfect, but I don't think MNR can claim anything they're doing is perfect either."

It all sounds familiar to Goulais, who said for "30 years, that's all it's been ... pointing fingers, pointing fingers and this is where it got everybody."

The MNR is looking for a solution and said all sides are welcome at the table — and on the lake.

Nashkawa said he believes there needs to be tighter controls on recreational fishing on Lake Nipissing and said he hopes everyone can work together to find a solution.