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Walleye catch limit on Lake of the Woods would be cut in half under new Ontario proposal

Dec 06, 2022 10:26AM ● By Content Editor
Photo: The Ministry of Natural Resources and forestry says harvest rates are high on Lake of the Woods walleye. It says there are few old walleye in the population. (Gord Ellis/CBC)

By Gord Ellis - CBC News - December 6, 2022

Significant changes could be coming to the regulations around the most popular fishing species on Lake of the Woods in northwestern Ontario. 

In a recently released draft plan, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry proposes changes to catch limits and size limits for walleye in the Lake of the Woods in order to address risks to the quality of the fishery.

Here are the proposed changes to the regulation:

  • All anglers with a sport license may catch and retain two per day though they must be less than 43 cm or great than 70 cm. Not more than one can be greater than 70 cm.
  • The possession limit would be four; Those must be less than 43 cm or greater than 70 cm and not more than one greater than 70 cm.
  • All anglers with a conservation license would have a daily catch-and-retain limit of one, which must be less than 43 cm. They may be in possession of two fish smaller than 43cm.

Ontario and Canadian residents with sports licenses can catch four walleye and those with a conservation license can catch two.

Nonresidents with a sports or conservation license can keep two walleye, both can catch not more than one greater than 46 cm.

"Monitoring data on Lake of the Woods indicates the walleye population is vulnerable to continued high-levels of harvest to the point where the current harvest poses a risk to the quality of the walleye fishery," Michelle Romeo, a ministry spokesperson said in an email to CBC News. 

The MNRF says it recognizes the importance of the walleye fishery to the social and economic well being of the communities in the Lake of the Woods area. (Gord Ellis/CBC)

Specifically, the ministry noted there are three ecological issues of concern:

  • Harvest rates are high on Lake of the Woods, which affects the population's ability to buffer against pressures such as invasive species, increased harvest and climate change. 
  • Observed biomass in the lake is below the provincial standard.
  • High mortality rates, meaning there are few old walleye in the population.

Taken together, the ministry said these issues suggest the walleye fishery is at risk in the long-term.

"The ability of the walleye population to buffer itself against unforeseen pressures in the future, such as poor reproductive years, increased fishing pressure or severe climate events, is low," Romeo said. 

The ministry said the draft proposals were made based on advice of the Lake of The Woods Fishery Advisory Council, a volunteer group representing Indigenous communities, the tourism industry, recreational anglers, cottagers, and municipal governments among others.

Matt Rydberg is an outfitter and member of the Lake of the Woods Fisheries Advisory Council. (Matt Rydberg/Facebook)

Matt Rydberg is an outfitter on Lake of the Woods and is a member of the advisory council.

He said the process of creating what would become the Lake of the Woods Draft Recreational Walleye Plan, was not always easy. But he said the committee included people and stakeholders from a wide area of the lake.

"There was a large committee and everyone had a voice at the table," said Rydberg. "It was just when you do have a large committee, it was definitely tough for them to kind of keep everybody on track with one thing."

Rydberg said once the advisory committee got going, it was a good process.

He said the ministry was able to give the group scientific data to help them with the creation of a plan.

Rydberg encourages people to looks at the full draft Recreational Walleye Management Plan for Lake of the Woods, which is now available on the Environmental Registry.

He said from his point of view, the walleye fishery on the lake has come under increased pressure in recent years.

"I mean if you're within the angling community, you've watched things over the last two winters," he said. "Like on the Minnesota side, how many ice fishermen are coming up there? ... I mean it's absolutely going to affect us."

The ministry said it conducted consultation during three virtual sessions hosted in March. Comments were generally supportive of the proposals.

 The Lake of the Woods Draft Recreational Walleye Plan will be available on the Environmental Registry for Ontario for a comment period of 60 days. Comment on the plan will be accepted until January 9, 2023. 

To read this original story and more news, follow this link to the CBC News website.

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