Friday, November 30, 2012

Proposed Changes to FMZ 5 for Bass

I was made aware of a possible change to the Bass regulations in Ontario's zone 5. (Northwestern Ontario) I emailed the MNR regarding this and received an email back later that day.  The information package included the Draft Fisheries Management Plan for Fisheries Management Zone 5 and the FMZ 5 Fisheries Management Plan Comment Form - Bass. I was impressed at the speed of the information sent back to me.

FMZ 5 Background
Smallmouth bass are not native to FMZ 5 and were first introduced into the zone approximately 100 years ago. They are now known to exist in over 560 lakes throughout the zone with populations being found in new lakes almost yearly. Largemouth bass are also not thought to be a native species in FMZ 5 although they are found in much fewer lakes (~100) located primarily in the south and west part of the zone. Most of the discussion and available data on bass populations in FMZ 5 is focused on smallmouth bass.

FMZ 5 bass populations have supported world class angling fisheries and have traditionally been popular with non-resident anglers and the tourist industry which has likely contributed to their spread throughout the zone. In more recent years, bass fishing has become more popular with resident anglers and several tournaments in towns such as Fort Frances, Kenora and Atikokan have become important events within these communities.

Proposed objectives for bass management in FMZ 5

The current regulation is:

Dates Catch Limits Size Limits
Jun 30 - Nov 30 S - 4, C - 2 .
Dec 1 - Dec 31 S - 2, C - 1 less than 35cm
Jan 1 - Jun 29 S - 2, C - 1 less than 35cm

The proposed regulation is:

Dates Catch Limits Size Limits
Jun 30 - Dec 31 S - 4, C - 2 .
Jan 1 - Jun 29 S - 4, C - 2 less than 35cm

The alternative proposed regulation is:

Dates Catch Limits Size Limits
Jun 30 - Dec 31 S - 4, C - 2 .
Jan 1 - Jun 29 S - 2, C - 1 less than 35cm

Rationale for the proposed regulation change

Eliminate reduced limits in winter/spring and simplify size limit season

The proposed regulatory management action is the same as the current regulation but eliminates the reduced limits during the winter and spring (i.e limits would remain at S-4/C-2 all year) and simplifies the dates of the size limit season to January 1st to June 30th. This maintains protection of large bass during the spring/winter periods but provides more harvest opportunity of smaller sized fish during that period. One of the concerns expressed about the current regulation is that the combination of the size limit (none larger than 35cm) and reduced limits (S-2/C-1) severely restrict the opportunity for anglers to harvest bass for consumption during the spring and they are forced to harvest more traditional species such as walleye or northern pike. This has been particularly noted for tourist guests with conservation licences who are currently limited to 1 bass less than 35cm. The proposed management action meets the objective of maintaining angling and harvest opportunities while also maintaining current protection of large bass in the winter and spring when they are vulnerable to anglers. By providing the opportunity to harvest more small fish, it may help in balancing harvest across the fish community. The angling and harvest of some bass at all times of the year is considered important to the tourist industry in marketing bass angling opportunities as well as allowing opportunities for bass to be harvested instead of traditional species such as walleye. With no size limits in the summer, this regulation does not restrict bass angling tournaments to weigh limits of large bass and meets the objective of maintaining opportunities for tournaments. It also simplifies the regulation by maintaining the same catch limits throughout the year. One concern of the proposed management action is that it does not provide protection for large bass throughout the remainder of the year.

The option also adjusts the size limit season from the period of Dec. 1 - June 30 to Jan. 1 – June 30 to address what was seen by the Advisory Council as confusion in the angling regulation summary. Because the summary is prepared as an annual summary and season dates cannot cross calendar years, the size limit period must be written as two separate periods (i.e Jan 1 –June 30 and Dec 1 – Dec 31). Members of the council felt the wording of regulation could be simplified by eliminating the December period. It was also felt that angling during the month of December was very limited because of typical ice conditions at that time of year and there would be very little risk to bass populations from this change.

Rationale for Alternative Management Options

Alternative Option 1: current regulation
Alternative Option 1 is the current regulation which meets the objectives identified and is providing healthy bass populations and high quality fisheries in most lakes in the zone. The current regulation has many of the same advantages as the proposed action (year round 29 Draft Fisheries Management Plan for Fisheries Management Zone 5 angling opportunities, protection of large bass in winter and spring when they are vulnerable to anglers, maintains opportunities for tournaments, etc). It also provides some protection of smaller spawning bass in the spring. Concerns with the current regulation include lack of biological rationale for reduced harvest of small bass in the winter and spring, the potential that this may eliminate the ability to reduce harvest of traditional harvest species such as walleye during this period and that the reduced limits during this period add additional complexity to angling regulations. As discussed previously, the dates of the current size limit season add to the complexity of how the regulation appears in the Fishing Regulation Summary.

Alternative Option 2: current regulation with simplified catch/size limit season.
Alternative Option 2 is the same as Alternative Option 1 with the simplified size limit season. As discussed previously, changing the dates of the size limit season to Jan. 1st to June 30th simplifies the regulation while having minimal impact on bass populations.

An additional option of the current limits of 4 for Sport licence anglers and 2 for Conservation licence with 1 fish over 35 cm for the entire year was considered and would have been preferred by OMNR as the simplest regulation that meets all the management objectives with the exception of maintaining angling tournament opportunities. It is felt that the implementation of this regulation would have had negative impacts on bass tournaments by eliminating the ability to weigh the 5 largest bass caught by the team. One potential advantage of tournament permitting is the ability to exempt tournament anglers from regulations such as this proposal providing the tournament meets fish handling and release conditions. Because this option is not currently available, this was not considered as feasible as a management option at this time.

MNR biologists believe that all options being presented will achieve the protection of the biological sustainability of FMZ 5 bass populations and meet the guiding principles and proposed bass objectives. The different options are expected to favour different objectives and MNR is expecting that the draft plan consultation will provide more direction on what management objectives and actions the public would prefer.

Personal Analysis

My thoughts are alternate option 2 is the best choice. It simplifies the fishing seasons from 3 date ranges to 2 and still protects the winter and nesting bass.  I know in some areas of the north the bass is considered a nuisance fish, much like the carp in Southern Ontario. We should celebrate a strong bass population, especially one that includes larger specimens.  Northern bass take a longer time to grow than their warmer water cousins and additional fishing pressure could definitely cause problems in the next decade.  Large females produce more eggs than smaller ones and larger males are more able to defend the nests. We should protect the winter and spring bass.

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