Submitted by Don Benson, Chair, C.H.A. Fish Committee
At a 2011 Lakeland Conference with many of Haliburton and Bancroft lakes represented, there was a strong and very vocal chorus of concerns about the declining numbers of lake trout. Lake trout are often compared to the “canary in the coal mine”; our early warning of oxygen starved, polluted water. I took these concerns to David Flowers, the area Fish Biologist in Minden; Bob Bergman, the head Fish Biologist at the provincial office in Peterborough, and Peter Schleifenbaum at Haliburton Forest where the issue had already been addressed.
An extensive, detailed study completed in 1991 is entitled, “Ontario’s Lake Trout – In Peril” and states that anglers are reaping harvests well in excess of levels that biologists say are sustainable.
We felt that efforts should be made to protect and increase the lake trout numbers. Dr. John Casselman, one of the most respected researchers in his field, has done extensive work in Haliburton, Haliburton Forest and across the Province. He found that lake trout are caught more readily in September; particularly the females who are feeding heavily then to build up energy reserves for egg mass and are therefore more susceptible to being caught. His key recommendation is: reducing the selective harvesting of maturing female fish from midsummer onward, would increase the reproduction capacity of the spawning population.
The two areas that have implemented his advice, report a noticeable increase in the number of lake trout. Some even say that it has never been as good. Our season closes at the end of September, only a week or so before spawning starts on some lakes. Zone 18, closes on Labour Day. Haliburton Forest even earlier. Zone 15 (ours) was the only site where regulations had not been updated. We were fortunate to obtain Dr. John Casselman to speak to our group in May, 2013. His message, followed by a panel discussion, was attended by a capacity crowd of 100, representing almost every lake in Haliburton plus M.N.R.F. representatives from Bancroft, Haliburton, Bracebridge & Peterborough.
Dr. Casselman’s presentation proved to be the catalyst needed, as demonstrated at the annual C.H.A. Lake Stewards’ meeting on September 21, 2013. During that summer, the Lake Stewards took the issue to their association annual general meetings and were overwhelmingly given the authority to vote on September 21st. At that meeting, a motion was made to request a mid-August closing date for lake trout in all of Haliburton. The vote to support was unanimous – not a single dissenting vote. We also felt that complete review of all the aspects of the lake trout fishing regulations should be taken, including slot size, catch limits, and winter fishing. It was requested that this motion be presented at the next Zone meeting. A Zone 15 Review was begun in 2017. We were fortunate to have David Flowers, retired Minden M.N.R.F. Fish Biologist agree to be our representative on the committee, which has been meeting since then.
Update: This time last year the Fisheries Council expected the 2-year review of fishing regulations would be completed at the end of 2018, with the draft presented early in 2019 for public evaluation and input. Unfortunately, because of a number of factors including the size of Zone 15, climate change issues, regulation options, stakeholder concerns, government cutbacks such as personnel and support of fish hatchery egg collection, the completion date for public evaluation is now 2020. I know this is disappointing but we will keep you posted.