By MPP Toby Barrett

Ontario is home to over 250,000 lakes and countless rivers and streams. As a result, Ontario has one of the best freshwater fisheries in the world, world-class angling opportunities and a significant commercial fishery.

About 1.5 million active anglers enjoy Ontario’s recreational fisheries. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry — recently merged into what is now called the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry — has responsibility for managing this important resource by promoting both recreational and commercial fishing, while ensuring sustainability.

Recreational fishing is a key tourism driver in Ontario, particularly for rural and northern Ontario. Many Ontarians have turned to fishing as a safe and affordable outdoor activity they can do with their families. We have seen an increase of about 49,000 licensed anglers in 2021 compared to 2020.

We also have a robust commercial fishery, with more than 600 licenses. Ontario has one of the largest freshwater commercial fisheries in North America and, in fact, anywhere in the world. Commercial fishing has a total landed value of just over $40 million a year, with spinoff economic benefits of about $200 million. Lake Erie’s commercial fishery accounts for more than 80 per cent of that total.

The fishery contributes approximately $2 million to MNRF through license fees and royalties. Like other industries during the pandemic, we waived the commercial fishing royalties in 2020 and refunded any royalties paid. Commercial harvest and population levels are extensively monitored so that sustainable harvest quotas can be set.

In 2015, Ontario’s commercial fishing industry obtained the Marine Stewardship Council certification for Lake Erie yellow perch and pickerel. It is an internationally recognized eco certification and eco labelling program, and is an important marketing tool for Lake Erie fish.

Stocking is a part of the ministry’s support for the fisheries. Fish for stocking are raised at nine provincially operated fish culture stations and one that is operated by a partner agreement. Locally, Normandale is one of the province’s fish culture stations, and is in fact the oldest fish hatchery in the province.

Each year, MNRF stocks approximately eight million fish into more than 12,000 water bodies. We invest about $6.9 million annually for the fish culture program. Half of the fish produced are stocked into the Great Lakes, and half into inland lakes. As well, young fish or eggs are provided to several community hatcheries for their stocking efforts. Some of the species raised are sought-after species like Atlantic salmon, brook trout, lake trout, pickerel and chinook salmon. 

New rules were announced in February for fishing for common carp. In order to use more than one line, anglers must meet all the following conditions. Anglers must use baits that are plant-based or artificial. When fishing from shore, each line used can be no further than two metres from another line the angler is using, and when fishing from a vessel, all lines must be on board the vessel with the angler. This change will make Ontario an attractive destination for competitive fishing events, like the World Carp Classic tournament.

With all the marinas on Long Point Bay, and fly-fishing on the Grand River and commercial fishing out of Port Dover and Port Maitland, fishing is big business locally and a cherished aspect of our area’s culture.

Toby Barrett is Haldimand-Norfolk MPP