STORIES FROM THE PUBLIC
I have been reading about what you are trying to accomplish. I was involved with the original Kawartha Lakes Give A Dam Committee. We had heard that the MNR had gone onto Pigeon Lake and taken large female walleyes for the purpose of stocking other lakes. When questioned, the MNR admitted that it had taken place. I, as a tourist operator, saw this as a problem, as did pretty well the whole town of Bobcaygeon.
We organized and our mandate was to get the MNR to allow us to restock the lake with some walleye. We held a one night auction at Lakeview Barn and raised $25,000.00. We also had donation boxes set up in businesses all over town. Bud Thompson (the Reeve of Bobcaygeon) graciously offered two ponds that he had so that the fingerlings could grow to a good size for release into Pigeon Lake. We presented our plan to the MNR which decided that they would do a study to find out the walleye population in Pigeon.They hired 3 “experts” to go out in the winter time on a hovercraft on probably 3 feet of ice. These “experts” determined that the lake had a healthy population of walleye. I always said that they must have had x-ray vision or something. They never came to talk to the tourist operators to get their first hand knowledge.
The MNR was charged $40,000.00 for this study. The MNR actually had the nerve to ask our group if we would like to donate some of our funds towards the study. We declined. One thing this study showed was the need for a group of volunteers to get together to work with the MNR to improve the fisheries. I was invited to the original meeting with the MNR and listened to what they had to say. In the end, I figured they were looking for people either with funds or that had the resources to raise funds and they wanted us to do their work. I left the meeting after an hour or so.
As a result of that meeting, a group was formed and was named the Kawartha Fisheries Association. I had nothing to do with the group until about 6 months later. A fellow had set up a Pigeon Lake Chapter and came out to see me about joining. I was reluctant at first, but after much back and forth with him I took the position of Project Manager for Pigeon Lake. Several months later, I was offered a seat on the Board of Directors for the KFA. There were approx.12 board members. Quite a few government agencies held the other seats, people from Trent University, the MNR, Trent-Severn Waterway, Ministry of Environment etc. At each and every monthly meeting, the President of our Chapter and myself brought up the restocking issue. They had every excuse under the sun why walleye stocking in the Kawarthas wouldn’t work. We got nowhere.
Once it was clear that the MNR had no intention to restock walleye into Pigeon Lake, we decided that the next best thing would be to have slot sizes so that the fish would have at least a chance to spawn in its lifetime. This was also turned down. The MNR said it wouldn’t work in the Kawarthas.
As a Chapter of the KFA, we did some local fundraising. We spent $23,500 of our own money to improve existing spawning beds. One is at the old Tall Cedars Resort at the end of the back channel of Boyds Island and the other one is at Sandy Point, across the lake from me. We have done our own studies and determined that the improvements that we made were working. I stayed on with the KFA for probably another 2 years when at that time I realized that we were not getting anywhere with the MNR so I resigned.
Within a few years the organization folded, once everyone realized that working with the MNR was pointless. It was ironic that after I quit the group, I read in the local paper that the MNR was going to have slot size limits for walleye on Balsam Lake. I went to the public meeting in Coboconk to listen to what the MNR had to say. After a slide show presentation, the MNR biologist asked if anyone had any questions. I asked the fellow “when they had moved Balsam Lake?” He gave me a funny look. I reminded him that at the Board Of Directors meetings, it was he that always said that slot sizes wouldn’t work in the Kawarthas. I got booed by the locals, as they wanted the size limits put on. It was disappointing to see another lake get this as it was our chapter on Pigeon that started it all. After a year or so of size limits on Balsam, it was extended to the rest of the Kawartha Lakes. I believe that this change, along with the smaller possession limits, have improved the walleye fisheries. I also think that our work on the spawning beds has helped.
I see several problems with the walleye fishery in the Kawarthas: One is the lack of enforcement of the existing fishing rules. I read that in the first week of fishing this year the MNR did a blitz and laid charges in over 50 cases including fishing out of season, fishing in a sanctuary, keeping undersized fish etc. This was out of the ordinary as you will be hard pressed to see any enforcement officers out on the lakes. All you have to do is drive by a causeway on any lake around here and you will see many, many people fishing, along with their buckets. Anything and everything goes into these buckets. Another huge factor is the fishing practice of stringing nets from one side of a river to the other side. Not only does this kill every fish that tries to swim upriver, it kills all the future fish as these fish are trying to spawn. This harvesting has to be stopped if we are to have a good fishery.
About 4 years ago, we tore down our rental cottages. I could see the writing on the wall. Our cottages were fully booked for the past 60 years but in the last decade we noticed a lot less bookings for the spring walleye. People were going elsewhere to fish.
Anyway, I wish you luck in dealing with the MNR.