Pelee Island pheasant hunt struggles in post-9/11 era
Travel restrictions, higher licence fees blamed for a 30% drop in island's 'economic driver'
Pelee Island's annual pheasant hunt isn't as popular as it once was.
Numbers have fallen by a third since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York.
The hunt that started in the 1920s used to draw a maximum number of 2,250 hunters over a three-week period. It now attracts 1,500, tops, according to Pelee Island Mayor Rick Masse.
"Since 9/11 it’s been dropping off," Masse said.
He said U.S. Homeland Security has made it more difficult for Americans to return home; a passport is required.
It's estimated 41 per cent of Canadians have a passport, but only about 20 per cent of Americans have one.
"New rules on non-residents hunting in Canada have made it more expensive for them to hunt, too," Masse said.
A one-year small game licence costs $115 CAN.
Friends Aldo Alulio, from Thornhill, Ont. and Tony Corvinelli, of Woodbridge, Ont. have been participating in the hunt since 1982 and 1988, respectively.
They and two other Canadians used to stay with 12 hunters from Michigan every year.
"We haven’t seen them in years," Alulio said.
Corvinelli said the Americans quit coming when the Michigan economy turned.
"It got a little too expensive for them," he said.
The Canadian friends said they each spend about $1,000 dollars per hunt.
"It's definitely worth it," Corvinelli said.
"It’s one of the economic drivers of our community," Masse said of the hunt. "It allows accommodations owners and restaurants to make some additional money before the winter close."
The last ferry to Pelee Island runs Dec. 9.
"The accommodations are not as full as they used to be and the restaurants aren’t making as much money," Masse said.
Municipality losing money
It's not just businesses hurting.
"The municipality is not making any money off the pheasant hunt, where traditionally it has made a profit off raising birds," Masse said.
Hundreds of birds are raised and released on the island before the hunt.
Sandra Laranja owns the Wandering Pheasant Inn on Pelee Island. She's one of the businesses booked solid this week, but knows it's not like that for everyone on the island.
"The rest of the island has declined a bit," she said.
She's only been in business four years, but knows how much the hunt means to the island.
"Revenue-wise, it’s very important. It does bring quite a bit of revenue to the island," she said. "It ends the year with a bit more excitement."
Masse said officials are trying to stimulate the hunt by encouraging young women and men to come and apprentice as hunters.
"If you have somebody that has a regular hunting license, they're allowed to bring an underage apprentice to go hunting with them, and they get a cut-rate deal, and the apprentice can hunt for free. It’s exciting to get new entries. The more the merrier," he said. "The hunting community is getting older and there’s not as many younger people interested."
Alulio and Corvinelli said there is a positive — for them, at least — to the smaller number of hunters.
"We like it because we don’t run into many hunters. It used to be quite crowded," Alulio said. "You were afraid to cross a hunter or shoot your firearm where a hunter might be in the way."