Ontario bait restrictions frustrate state’s anglers

St. Clair Shores, Mich. – When it comes to fishing in Canadian
waters on Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River, Michigan anglers
must follow the guidelines established by the Ontario Ministry of
Natural Resources.

That means it’s illegal to buy live bait – including minnows,
leeches, crayfish, and salamanders – in Michigan and take it into
Ontario for fishing.

“It is illegal to bring live fish into Ontario for the purpose
of bait,” said Mark Robbins, provincial enforcement specialist for
the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. “That has been on the
books for a while. It’s not new.”

What is new for Michigan anglers is the strict enforcement of
the Canadian rules and the ensuing fines that go along with the
infraction.

“Our guys getting tickets has killed our fall perch run over
there,” said Dan Chimelak, co-owner of Lakeside Fishing Shop in
Lake St. Clair. “The guys do well over there, but people won’t go
to Canada anymore because they’re worried about getting a ticket.
One guy came in and showed me a $350 ticket he got, and it’s more
if you argue or say anything.”

OK, we all understand: rules are rules. What’s the fuss? But
Chimelak points out there are no bait shops in Canada along the
Lake St. Clair shoreline that carry minnows consistently, and the
ones that are open are inconvenient for Michigan anglers.

“Because there’s no place to get minnows over there, you would
have to run to the Detroit River and go to Wally’s Bait in downtown
Windsor to find what you need. By the time you run from 9 Mile Road
to the mouth of the Detroit River, and all the way back to the
middle of the river or lake, you have spent a lot of time, and a
hundred dollars in gas.”

Though Chimelak agrees that a rule banning live bait purchased
in Michigan in Canadian waters is legal, he contends that the price
to pay for a Canadian license, compounded by bait rules and
regulations, are just more ways to keep Americans out of Canadian
waters.

“They’ve got a million answers to all our questions,” Chimelak
said of his conversations with the Ontario Ministry of Natural
Resources. “It’s ridiculous when you think about how much money we
spend over there and the fact they are now ticketing American
anglers for using our bait.

“The perch fishing has been doing very well in Canada,” he said.
“You have bad days; it’s going to happen. And the American side has
been good, too. But so many guys compete for areas over here.
Canada, they have deeper water and more areas to fish than we
do.”

Like in the United States, changes have been made to bait
regulations in Canada to protect certain species and prevent the
spread of invasive species and diseases, including viral
hemorrhagic septicemia, which is not a threat to human health. But
the introduction of baiting regulations in both the United States
and Canada could be a “death sentence” to local businesses along
Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie, the Detroit River, and the St. Clair
River, according to Chimelak

“Another (reason) why I think they’re targeting us more is they
(Ministry of Natural Resources) gave us permission to run two rods
in Canada,” Chimelak said. “Isn’t it odd that the first year they
give us two rods to use, they actually enforce the law. It’s a
money game. They must think, ‘let’s figure out a way to get money
back for giving them two rods to fish with.’ They give you the
option to runs two lines and now they’re just ticketing us for
using our minnows.”

Chimelak said he’s angry because fish bait regulations are
hurting his business, and he doesn’t know how much longer Lakeside
can remain open.

“The Canadians let those Indians take all the fish with their
nets,” he said. “There’s no limit on the amount of fish they can
keep. No limit on the size. Indians can go out 52 weeks a year and
get as much fish as they want. And the American recreation
fishermen get big fines for fishing with U.S. minnows. How ignorant
can they be? When will it stop? There is no weir, no fence between
the U.S. and Canada waters. What the heck is the difference?”

The fishing industry was going to be hit hard when baiting
regulations were introduced, according to Kelley Smith, chief of
the DNR’s Fisheries Division. But the only viable solution was to
restrict the use of bait minnows taken from water known to have
VHS-infected fish.

Like Canada, U.S. fishermen are barred from using minnows that
come from waters known to be infected with VHS in bodies of water
that have not had infections reported. This is to keep the disease
from being introduced into new areas.

The careful use of live baitfish is not unlawful in most Ontario
waters, Robbins said; however, the remaining unused baitfish must
not be released alive.

“The big issue is fish disease and VHS,” Robbins said. “With
invasive species, the problem we have is we border up with
different U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. There’s no
jurisdiction to deal with how they handle bait. It’s out of our
hands on how to handle it and prohibit the importation. We don’t
know where the bait comes from, the level of screening it goes
through, so the transporting of bait is unlawful on both sides.
It’s equally a problem for Canadian fishermen fishing in U.S.
waters.

One solution, although not viable for most anglers, is to use
dead minnows.

Robbins said many anglers will drain their minnow bucket on
shore, then bag and quickly freeze the excess minnows for use
another day. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources suggests
catching your own bait from the lake you intend to fish.

“The majority of my guys don’t want to go to Canada because it’s
just a hassle,” Chimelak said. “I’ve been here over 35 years and it
just gets worse and worse every day. The business is 75 percent
down. I’m in danger of losing it. Always had the light at the end
of the tunnel, but there’s no money with the (current) economy.
It’s a very sad situation. How do I find the help I need. How does
small business survive in today’s world when conditions are as
harsh as they are and no one gives you help?”

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