It’s been four years and four MNRF Ministers since Jamie pledged his support for the Save the Walleye Campaign. That’s four replays of the same song to four different Ministers in power. Things have been bad for so long that we are losing the culture of fishing in the Kawartha Lakes, but today, on a Sunday, Minister Yakabuski met with Jamie in Bobcaygeon beside the historic walleye spawning beds. Jamie brought the Minister up to speed on what the committee he supports is trying to accomplish:
What the Save the Walleye committee is trying to do:
- The walleye population has declined since the 1960s when hydraulic dams were installed on the Trent-Severn Waterway.
- We are trying to fix the things that are wrong to turn the decline around.
- We are trying to get the TSW and the MNRF to manage things differently (by working together).
The problems (TSW and MNRF):
The federal problem: Water is over-controlled by the TSW.
- The TSW kills mature walleye in winter by not providing enough water to survive.
- Then the TSW prevents spawning or renders spawning unsuccessful by dropping the water before the walleye spawning cycle has completed.
- The TSW drains the lakes to unnaturally low levels in winter.
- The lake floor is exposed in too many places. The fish kills have been devastating.
- Walleye suffocate and every species that lives in the mud freezes.
The TSW doesn’t bring the lake levels up enough in the spring during spawning.
- Some years the spawning bed is exposed rock and the walleye can’t get to the spawning beds.
- Some years there is water for spawning, but the TSW drops the water before the eggs hatch (the rocks turn yellow with unviable eggs and the seagulls have a heyday).
- Some years the water covers the spawning bed for spawning and until the eggs hatch, but the water drops before the hatch have had a chance to “swim up” (hatch swim vertically up and down for a period of time before they are able to swim horizontally). When the water drops to the lake bed, the hatch die.
- Some years there is plenty of water. So much so, that the TSW opens the hydraulic gates full bore, which sucks the fragile hatch off the spawning beds into the fast-flowing south-side current where they die.
The MNRF know this, but have said nothing. No pressure is applied. We need pressure applied on the TSW to stop systematically destroying the fishery at every stage of the life cycle.
The provincial problem: The PBoro MNRF have done a terrible job of managing the fishery (and their reputation is poor).
The MNRF doesn’t put pressure on the TSW to maintain the minimum water levels and flows needed to successfully support the fishery. How can the MNRF manage a fishery without water?
The MNRF also does not:
Enforce its own regulations. That’s why slot sizes haven’t worked! (2 officers for the entire Kawartha Lakes region and a few PR blitzes doesn’t cut it. We need more officers. We need a force out there every day handing out fines. The rules aren’t respected because no one is watching).
Educate the public with signs and literature. (Ignorance of the rules is high. Some people break the rules on purpose because they know they won’t get caught. Some break the rules unintentionally because there aren’t pamphlets to accompany every licence, and there aren’t posters or billboards at launches and along the highways. Rulers aren’t handed out anymore either. We need those rulers to go out with the fishing licences).
Gather data. They told us they had no data, but we found lots of it (and it’s on the website). Then there was a scramble to get data because the cat was out of the bag. The PBoro MNRF office reacts. It doesn’t proactively lead or engage or DO. Where is the review of the 2009 Fisheries Management Plan? What happened to that? What was done? Nothing. That’s why no review.
Close winter pan fishing in zone 17 (the MNRF think $Millions in licensing money is more important than protecting walleye, which are poached badly during winter.)
Say yes to river spawning bed enhancement to support existing and future stocked fish populations (support our pilot projects in Bobcaygeon and Lindsay).
Deal with the exploding pan fishery (We have passed the tipping point. The panfish are now walleye predators).
Stock walleye fingerlings after the infrastructure is fixed to support more walleye. Fingerlings not eyed eggs. We need the stock to survive.
*The MNRF’s winter panfishing is a sad joke (if you know anything about fishing)
Anglers don’t fish for panfish in winter! Why not? Because Bluegill don’t digest food in winter (so they don’t eat). And it’s extremely difficult to catch Crappy in winter. So what do winter anglers pull from the lakes in winter? WALLEYE! Selling the idea to the public that a winter pan fishery will decrease panfish numbers is laughable. Winter fishing won’t change the exploding bluegill numbers. What winter fishing does create an unenforced season of walleye poaching. Poaching of walleye in wint
The solution (is simple):
Fix the Bobcaygeon spawning bed so walleye can reproduce
The beds are too high and too smooth.
The beds need to be lower
The beds need the rubble that’s sitting on the smooth limestone shelf pushed off into deeper water so the eggs can settle where they won’t be washed away and where they will have a better chance of being covered.
*This will only happen if the MNRF tells the TSW it should happen and help make it happen with funds for physical spawning bed repair (a couple of bulldozers) and to cover the costs of the TSW’s required Environmental Assessment…either with money or with a supplied environmental engineer to do the study.
Manage water in a fish-friendly way.
If the TSW allows the spawning bed repairs, this will have an immediate positive impact on the turnaround of the walleye population.
But if the TSW doesn’t change how it manages water, incorporating the needs of the fishery into its calculations, there won’t be a significant improvement over time. And the ecosystem will continue to suffer in more ways than just the walleye fishery.
Pressure needs to come from the MNRF to the MOE, the kind of pressure that doesn’t happen from one MP and a handful of concerned constituents.
WE NEED HELP FROM THE MNRF!
After an on-site meeting that covered a lot of (problematic) ground, Minister Yakabuski asked for data to move forward. We are hopeful that once this data is in hand—there’s a lot of it—good things will come from Doug Ford’s Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry and from his staff.
WALLEYE ONCE THRIVED. FISHING LODGES OVERFLOWED IN TOWNS LIKE BOBCAYGEON AND LINDSAY. NOW THE WALLEYE HAVE DISAPPEARED AND THE TOURISTS HAVE GONE.
FROM SHAD FLIES TO WALLEYE, OUR ECOSYSTEM HAS SUFFERED.