Northwestern Ontario tourism operators decry expansion of boundary waters fishing rules

Newly imposed fishing regulations in part of northwestern Ontario could have a negative impact on the tourism industry, says an association representing lodge owners in the region.

Limits for non-resident anglers will have economic impact on tourism, says industry association

Walleye are considered a popular game fish prized by anglers, says the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. (Daniel Miller/Associated Press)

An expansion of fishing limits for non-resident anglers in part of northwestern Ontario is causing concern for an association representing lodge owners, who say it could have a negative economic impact on an area that relies on outdoor tourism. 

In a letter to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, the Kenora District Camp Owners Association expressed "outrage" at rules that came into effect on January 1 in Fisheries Management Zone 5, which encompasses the Kenora, Fort Frances and Dryden areas.

The new regulations will reduce the number of walleye and lake trout non-resident anglers can take each day in the northern part of the zone. It's an extension of limits which have been in place in the boundary waters section of the zone for close to two decades.

Potential economic impact a concern

"I think the negative part of it is that it only applies to non-residents," said Gord Bastable, a lodge owner and director with the Kenora District Camp Owners Association, adding that the change could be hard to explain to American visitors. 

"For example, at my camp I do have Canadians and Americans. So I mean, I'm going to have one group of anglers potentially bringing in more fish in a day than another and having to justify that it, you know, might be difficult for some people. Overall, it's going to be an economic impact of some sort."  

The new limits will lower the number of walleye non-resident anglers can have in their possession from four per day, to two per day, he said. 

Bastable said he felt blindsided by the change when he learned of it in December. 

In an email to CBC, a spokesperson for the Ministry said the changes to the daily harvest limits for non-residents was made as a result of a fisheries management exercise that was done between 2010 and 2013, which included consultation with stakeholders, and that tourism outfitters in the region received notice of the intended changes in 2014.

Fisheries data collected from the zone indicated that about half of the walleye lakes in the zone "were categorized as either 'exploited,' or 'stressed' and suggested that the principal cause of this condition was overharvest," the email stated.

Concern with 'broad brush' approach

Bastable said he's not convinced that the new regulations are the best way to protect the walleye population, or that the research the Ministry relied upon to make the decision reflects the health of all lakes in the area. 

"We've asked [the Ministry] to be more specific about what lakes they were looking at," he said. 

Bastable said on Eagle Lake, where his own lodge is located, people have enacted their own successful walleye conservation efforts.

"So it just is frustrating to go through all that time and effort on various planning, consultation things from the MNR and then have this decree come and it's just a broad brush approach to the whole area," he said.