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'THE WAY IT IS' - OUT ON LAKE ERIE
the opinion of John A. Vance, Outfitter/guide, Environmental Engineering Tech., and Outdoor Writer - In conjunction with other 'Pro' sport fishermen within the sport fishing industry. These people wish to remain anonymous in fear of reprisal from both the government, and commercial fishing operators. These 'Pro' fishermen are some of the 'top' fishermen on the Canadian side of Lake Erie.

special note, commercial fishing in Ontario does not include charter boats, or the charter boat industry - just netting, such as gill netting, trawl netting and hoop nets etc.

Back, near the turn of the 19th century, when officials were determining a licensing system for the commercial fishery, and consequently the number of commercial fishing boats/ operations that the lake could 'handle', technology wasn't what it is to-day. Indeed, populations have risen dramatically, and back then, in yester-year, sport fishing was almost non-present. To-day in contrast, we have much technology, in regards to commercial fishing fleets, making them much more efficient than the same number of operations were, way back when. Commercial fishing licenses, still today, carry on with the tradition of being able to be transferred. This may be from father to son/daughter, or the license, or quota, just plain sold to another operator, or potential operator. Many of the licenses are being controlled by fewer, but larger 'big business' operations, and the smaller 'family operated' and owned operations are in a declining existence today. 

As mentioned earlier, back in the early part of this century, sport fishing was almost non-existent. So, we must ask - WHERE DID THE BLUE PICKEREL GO? Or should we not ask such foolish questions.

Just before leaving this above topic, it should be noted that in areas where commercial fishing was eventually stopped, fish stocks rebounded dramatically, and even much sooner than had been predicted. When mentioning this statement, Lake St. Clair and The Bay of Quinty come to mind. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to add up this equation does it?

Most advocates whom would like to see the abolishment of commercial fishing in Lake Erie, are also in the opinion that this will apply to all commercial entities, and include netting of ALL fish, for sale - OR FISH NOT FOR SALE, by  Indians/natives.

Each year, many tagged and fin clipped fish are caught on the Ontario side of Lake Erie, by sport fisher-folk. Most of the walleye thus harvested are easy to identify, because they have a tag on them, telling of the origin - usually Ohio. The origin of fin clipped trout and salmon, and occasional fin clipped walleye, are more difficult to determine. None-the-less, because Ontario only stocks a relatively 'token' amount of these fish in Lake Erie or its tributaries; it would not be unfair to assume that most of these 'marked' fish are of American origin. 

It is also presumed that many such tags are turned back to the place of origin, for data collection. 

If we sport anglers are catching (fish with tags on, and clipped fish) and returning these tags, then it would be fair to also assume that the commercial fisher-trade must be catching similarly tagged fish - en mass. The question is - are these (commercially harvested) tags also being returned to proper authorities. If you are involved with any such projects, and can supply me with this info. please send me an e-mail - I'd be glad to publish these findings here!. I don't think that tags from fish caught by the commercial trade are turned back over to authorities - this might focus unwanted 'lime-light' on their trade. 

Too, because of past Ontario MNR practices (or lack thereof), and specifically, because of little 'stocking', the bulk of the walleye, trout(s) and salmon(s) we enjoy today is primarily due to past American stocking programs. Even the re-establishment of the walleye, to the harvest-able numbers of to-day should be attributed to American stocking. This is evidenced by the fact that back in the  fifties and sixties, walleye were a scarce commodity in Lake Erie, compared to the peak walleye years back in the eighties. It is estimated that there are less than half the walleye numbers in Lake Erie to-day, than there was back in the eighties. 

To-day, on any given day, as sports fishermen, we'll fish around many commercial nets - miles and miles of them. Some of these nets are bottom nets, gill nets thus set for perch, most often in anywhere from 30 feet of water, out to 65 feet of water, or more. As well, we'll often have to go around, or keep away from 'canned-up' nets, which are suspended at a 'given' depth and are primarily set for walleye. Many of these nets are easily a half mile long, and several set in a row; where one stops - the next starts, so that effectively, this gill net set-up may, and often is, several miles in length. 

We often troll along these nets and catch walleye and salmon and trout. 
Commercial fisher-folk are not supposed to catch salmon or trout, as these fish are not 'commercial fish'. 

If we sport fishers are catching decent harvests of salmon or trout, fishing not even one hundred yards from such nets, would it not be fair to assume that they (commercial nets) are catching salmon/trout too? The 'stock' governmental and commercial fisher's answer would be that these fish don't get caught in their nets, as trout/salmon like different temperatures/depths and so on.. But the fact remains that if we are fishing primarily for walleye, at the same depths as the nets are set, and taking excellent catches of trout and salmon, in addition to walleye, would it not be unfair, or unreasonable to assume that the gill nets, not 100 yards distant, are catching them too? 

Elsewhere ( in the 'Overview' section - see blue index section to left of this page) we discussed that sport fishing by hook and line is regarded as an 'inefficient' method of catching fish - but catching fish with the various net systems used by commercial fisher-people is quite efficient. You are not stupid - please equate the latter statement to the paragraph above. 

Most of you have likely purchased live minnows from a bait shop at one time or another. 
When the minnows were dipped out of the tank - what happened? Did the remaining minnows spread out, taking up the remaining space - or was there an area devoid of minnows? Lake Erie is not much different - just much larger - so when we take fish from our side of the lake, eventually, this water space will have more walleye move in. So, you see, it isn't necessary for Ontarian commercial fishier-persons to fish on the American side of the lake to effectively harvest fish! I'm sure you'll see my point that walleye stocks, many from US water, will eventually move in and occupy Ontarian waters, and be subject to  commercial fishing and out of fairness - to sport anglers too. We must keep in mind though, that fishing pressure from sport anglers in Canadian water isn't nearly as heavy as in American water, simply due to much lesser population densities (less sport fisher-folk). 

Too, if the fishing was better, and more fish were available to harvest, there would be more sports fisher-folk. Indeed, there were a lot more anglers fishing Lake Erie back in the eighties when walleye stocks were way up, but has declined drastically since the walleye population has dropped. 

This comes back around to us now, because there are many less interested sport fisher's, we also have a much smaller, and weaker voice, when it comes to voicing our opinions (to our Ontario government) about commercial fishing. 

The fact does remain however, that even in this much reduced state, the dollar value to the economy, and 'hours of enjoyment'  by these sport anglers, far outweighs the comparable dollar value of any 'given' fish taken by commercial fishing. 

As an environmental person, and when dealing with 'environmental balancing' I'm interested in seeing THE MOST AMOUNT OF GOOD that can be achieved from our resources, both re-newable, and non-renewable alike. It makes much more sense to nurture the sport fishery on Lake Erie, than that of 'wholesale' commercial fishing. Now that these re-newable natural resource stocks are being depleted, it makes much more sense, and respectful to the very lake - and resource, to abolish commercial fishing from Lake Erie. 

If you or I as a sport angler catch even one more fish of a species, than the 'bag limit' allows, you are in jeopardy of loosing your boat, vehicle, rod/reel/equipment, then being fined, and loss of your license. Yet commercial fisher-people are allowed 'incidental catches' of fish, which are often simply 'speared' (so they sink), and thrown overboard.To me this is a waste, and it is done en-mass. 

You see, the commercial anglers have no quota for rainbow or brown trout, or skamania trout, nor are they supposed to catch any of the salmons. If they do catch these fish, they are simply to 'report the catch' on their daily fish return log. While I've never been able to catch them in the act, and take pictures of the commercial anglers discarding these unwanted fish, other sport anglers have seen this event occur - and often. I believe that it would be in the best interest of the commercial fisher's to carry-on with this scurrilous act, and not report the catch, although, I do believe they do record what I would regard as a 'token' amount of thus harvested, unwanted, and subsequently, discarded fish. Smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and musky are additional 'sport' fish, that commercial fishers are not supposed to harvest. 

Indeed, just over a year ago, a commercial fisher-person was caught and charged by the MNR when they caught and discarded 100 smallmouth bass from the 'Outer Bay', a section of Long Point Bay, one of Lake Erie's premier smallmouth bass locations. The charge was for 'not recording' the catch on their daily catch log - not for catching these fish, or even for allowing them to go to waste by spearing (so they sink) and throwing the (dead) fish away. 

As sport anglers, it is illegal to allow a 'game fish' to spoil, yet daily, many such fish are discarded daily by commercial anglers. 

Alas, there's more. It seems that commercial anglers prefer  walleye that are 12-14 inches long, as these are what fish-market consumers prefer. What do you suppose that commercial anglers do with the large trophy sized fish - that you and I just love to catch? They spear them and throw them back into the water - they don't want them. The spearing I refer to is to break the fish's air bladder so it'll sink - these fish are already dead when harvested by commercial nets. I believe that the commercial anglers don't want to keep the larger fish, because to do so, these large fish would have to be included in their daily, and over-all quota of walleye; the point - why would they wish to keep unsaleable or lesser valued walleye as part of their quota? 

The trawl netting for smelt is also, in my opinion, a sad state of affairs. Trawl nets, which are dragged on the bottom of Lake Erie, after smelt (primarily), are non-specific in regards to catch, and any other species is also captured in this 'drag net' style commercial fishing. If the commercial boat is marking what they believe are smelt on their fish-finder, but if, in actuality, it turns out these fish are shad, or alewife, once the scoop/drag net is full and boated, these unwanted fish are discarded - they don't want them - and these fish are already dead or dying. (as an aside; if you stay in this quest to have commercial fishing banned, somewhere, sometime, you'll hear the Ontario government tell you that we need to drastically reduce the numbers of walleye from the lake so they won't starve - please go back and read the bolded sentences preceding this bracketed material) 

Equally as important, and deleterious, is the methodology of this form of harvest, in that the net is dragged along the bottom of the lake, altering, and destroying the lake bottom, where many crustaceans and lake living larva inhabit. Where did all the lake flies go? True, there are still some species able to withstand some of the 'onslaught' that we have done to Lake Erie, but I'm referring to the mayfly larva that used to be a great fish-food throughout Lake Erie - could drag-netting - trawler style - have helped significantly to deplete in this precious food chain forage of many fish and forage fish's food source? Not only this one species mentioned is in peril, but any bottom dwelling creature as well. 
By the way, need I mention what happens to the non-wanted species of fish harvested by trawl netting, when they are questing after smelt? 

Not only are the smelt stocks being reduced significantly in the lake, by simply tremendously large quotas given to the commercial fishermen, but the overall size of the smelt is also sadly reduced. I've seen many 'hoppers/totes' ( when full) these weigh several hundred pounds apiece - and taken by only one fishing tug, in one morning (I believe that the quota is 12 totes per day, per license - but I may be wrong, and stand to be corrected - and please feel free to do so - I'd be glad {love to actually} to put the daily quota here for everyone to see) of smelt thus harvested, and these smelt no longer than six inches each. This is reportedly the size they're after. It takes a lot more (numbers ) of this sized fish taken, in order for the commercial fisher's to hit their allowed quota. (I.e.: how many one ounce fish are in a pound, as compared to four ounce fish, in that same pound weight). 

These are the same smelt that many of the larger fish, such as walleye, rainbow, brown and skamania trout, as well as salmon and often perch, use as a primary food stuff. 

Here's another question that I'll leave to your imagination - which I'm sure the appropriate paper-work will show that there's no problem. What of the cormorants, canvasback, redhead, scaup (bluebills), and even loons - to say nothing of other similar fish-eating birds - get tangled up and perish in the commercial nets - especially gill nets? 

This past fall several area duck hunters told me that some of the birds they shot had pieces of gill net around their necks - and obviously - these are the ones that got away. 

If you are a hunter, and come across such an occurrence, please take a photo of it and send it to me - I'd be glad to post it here for the world to see! 

And what of the 'ghost nets', which are nets that have been ripped off their markers/end fastening poles by bad weather? These nets (often gill nets), made of non-rotting nylon, can roll around the bottom of the lake for years, catching fish, which ultimately rot there, making room for the net to catch more fish - day-in - day-out, and never recovered. Who's quota do these fish go under - or is this environmental unbalancing simply OK, in favor of the commercial fishery?

But we CAN do something - you and I. Firstly, PARTICIPATE - read-on, the other sections found here -  so you become informed of the whole picture. Too, tell your friends about this web site, encourage them to come here and also arm themselves with the education needed to ultimately eliminate commercial netting form Lake Erie. 

My personal needs are simple, to be able to make a living, and afford this web site, I need you to visit my product section of this web site, and make purchases of items that will enhance your 'sports activities' anyway. 

As well, if you would like to advertise here, on this web site,contact us, your patronage is needed, and will be appreciated

Special note: I'm not paid by any orginization or group - and because of the situation here in Ontario - I'm on my own. Most people, while they agree with what I'm doing, because of potential reprisals from both government and commercial entities, must 'distance' themselves from me - so - in order to 'carry-on' I need you to buy my products and advertise here - with thanks - John A. Vance

Please visit my product section of this web site, or contact us, for advertising opportunities


Author: John A. Vance
Copyright © 1998 John A. Vance. . . 
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