The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) wants the provincial government to suspend the
commercial gill netting of walleye on Lake Nipissing.
According to the group, it is basing
its recommendation on data provided by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). The OFAH’s biologists have concluded that the
walleye population has suffered dramatic declines over the past 10
years due to the “unregulated” commercial gill net fishing.
That assumption doesn’t sit well with
Jean-Marc Filion, who is president of the Lake Nipissing Partners in
Conservation, secretary of the North Bay Anglers and Hunters and
vice-president of the Trout Lake Conservation Association.
While he agrees that the fishery is in
decline, he points to the invasion of the spiny water flea in the
“The spiny water flea, at the present
time, wipes out most of the zooplankton in the lake to a depth of
greater than five metres,” he said.
“That is the base of the food chain.
If that base is wiped out, then you have a problem with energy
flowing up to the top so the lake can’t produce as many fish as it
used to in the past.”
Filion has been very involved in lake
conservation and has undertaken several studies of lake quality. He
published a report in 2010 about the spiny water flea and said the
MNR has it and is taking it under consideration.
Filion points out that the Nipissing
First Nation, which operates the commercial fishery on Lake
Nipissing, has been taking many proactive measures to ensure the
longevity of the fishery for all users.
“They stopped gill netting during the
spring to give the fish a chance to spawn,” he said.
“They also decided some years ago to
look at the maximum number of kilograms the lake can produce and then
slash that number by two-thirds, and then only take two-thirds of
“They are gill netting in a very
conservative way in order to make sure there is enough fish for
“I don’t think (the OFAH) gave the
First Nation credit for what they were doing, and are doing.”
While the OFAH claims the gill netting
is not regulated, Filion said the First Nation is managing the
harvest. Every net that goes in the lake is numbered and when it
comes out, the fish are weighed.
“They know how many kilograms they
are taking and they have a quota. When it is reached, they stop
fishing. This is painting a very different picture than (we get) from
Attempts to reach a spokesperson for
Nipissing First Nation were unsuccessful.
Due to the spiny water flea, all lake
users have to rethink how many fish “we are all taking.”
The MNR has established a committee to
look at possible regulation changes and limitations. The OFAH was
invited to participate but refused.
“It is very sad they would not come
because dialogue is the path to the future,” Filion said.
The OFAH also claims that angler
harvest has not contributed to the recent declines of the lake’s
walleye since they “have always been regulated,” according to a
report on its website.
It does acknowledge that the spiny
water flea, an overabundance of double-crested cormorants and climate
change may have contributed to declines.
“However, it is important to remember
that the continuous overharvest of walleye by the commercial gill net
fishery is largely responsible for the declines,” the report
Filion said the lake has managed to
sustain a maximum yield of about 90,000 kilograms of walleye.
“Probably now, in today’s
ecosystem, it is only a portion of that. What portion, I don’t
The spiny water flea affects all
species in the lake but the perch seem to be targeting them and doing
well, he said.
Walleye is the top carnivore in the
lake, but if its population declines, other species will fill the
void, such as perch.
“I am not saying that will happen,
but there is a danger here. I really don’t think the OFAH was fair
in its assessment and now is the time for dialogue,” Filion said.
Doug Reynolds, executive director of
Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario, said he is not sure that finger
pointing and trying to blame a particular user group is helpful.
“The fishery has been declining, no
question about that, but, we need to sit down and find a way forward.
It is a complex issue,” he said.
Tourist operators want a solution and
Reynolds said the decline of the fishery is one of the many stresses
they are facing.
“Lake Nipissing has not been a really
high-quality fishery for many, many years. But when there is talk of
how bad it is, and it spreads, even people who don’t fish come to
think of the lake as not quite the pristine place they thought it
was,” he said.
Reynolds said science and visionary
leadership are required, and not inward-looking factions who claim
they aren’t part of the problem.
Said Filion, “It’s not only about
the fishing, but about the ecology.”