By Steve Galea
A proposed fisheries management plan that would reduce ice fishing seasons in Haliburton County has not been finalized and will likely not be implemented until at least 2024.
MNRF assistant regional resources planning manager Jesse Van Allen confirmed that the Fisheries Management Zone (FMZ) 15 Draft Management Plan and comments received from concerned anglers and stakeholders are now being reviewed by Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) staff.
The plan, which caused concern for many local anglers and businesses that rely on winter angling, was placed on the Environmental Registry of Ontario (ERO) in late 2022 for public comment. Van Allen said 460 comments were received in the comment period, from Sept. 29 to Nov. 28, 2022.
“The number of comments received on the Fisheries Management Zone (FMZ) 15 Draft Management Plan was higher than what has generally been received in the past for a Draft FMZ Plan,” he said. “This is likely due to the location of FMZ 15 and the popularity of recreational fishing in this zone. Additionally, the efforts to promote awareness of the Draft Plan through social media postings and encourage comments directly through the ERO may have contributed to this increase.”
Van Allen said once the review of the plan and comments is complete, the MNRF will seek feedback from the FMZ 15 Advisory Council, comprised of representatives including First Nation and Métis communities, local anglers, the tourism sector, environmental non-government organizations, local business representatives, cottage associations and the general public. After that, he said, updates could be made to the plan.
He expects the plan to be finalized in 2023 and once again posted on the Environmental Registry of Ontario along with a summary of the types of comments received and any updates to the plan.
Van Allen noted comments received were “generally supportive of the priority to conserve and rehabilitate cold water species. While there were concerns raised around winter angling opportunities, a number of the comments received suggested a misunderstanding that there was a proposal to end all winter angling opportunities for trout. Although some season changes are proposed to protect naturally-occurring brook trout and lake trout populations, a winter season from the first Saturday before Family Day to the third Sunday in March was proposed on large natural lake trout lakes (greater than 500 ha). Also, the many lakes that are stocked with brook trout, lake trout, rainbow trout, brown trout or splake would continue to be stocked and available as year round angling opportunities.”
The Plan also proposed additional angling opportunities throughout FMZ 15 (which Haliburton County is part of), including:
Removing most existing winter fish sanctuaries, allowing new winter fishing opportunities for some species where they exist during their applicable seasons.
Extending the current angling season for Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass.
Van Allen said before the proposed changes are implemented, the draft Fisheries Management Plan would require approval.
“The earliest possible date to implement these proposed changes would be Jan. 1, 2024. Depending on when the Plan is approved, the changes may be implemented Jan. 1, 2025,” he added.