While local ice anglers are calling on the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) to take action to protect Lake Simcoe’s perch population, the ministry says there are no plans to change fishing regulations for perch at this time, according to Jolanta Kowalski, an MNRF spokesperson.
But that decision does not sit well with John Whyte, 66, one of Ontario’s top ice anglers.
“Given the condition of the lake right now, the abundant food supply and the extended growing season, we should see more jumbo perch, but instead we see fewer,” said Mr. Whyte, who is also the publisher of the Time on The Water Canada fishing website.
“Lake Simcoe, which used to be the “jumbo” capital of Canada, has now fallen well behind,” he added. “That’s why it’s important to be pro-active and stay a step ahead in our conservation efforts.”
Mr. Whyte is calling on the ministry to protect perch, by reducing daily limits for a sport licence to 25 from 50, and possession limits to 50 from 100. He says this would bring Ontario regulations in line with neighbouring U.S. states, like Michigan, who recently lowered its daily limit to 25, and 50.
“Let’s post a reasonable limit that’s in line with neighbouring U.S. states, “ he said. “They’ve done the research. And have the same problems that we have, particularly in lakes that are accessible from large population areas.”
Mr. Whyte, who also administers the Lake Simcoe Message Board (LSMB), a popular forum for local anglers, says anglers have been complaining about the lack of jumbo perch for almost three years now, so there is no need to wait for the ministry to confirm what they already know.
“We have huge sample size on the LSMB,” he said. “We have a 150-thousand unique visitors coming through that site in the winter time. We understand what’s going on out there much better than you could do with creel counts from the ministry which might take five years.”
MNRF introduced the current limits for perch in the late 90s, but Mr. Whyte says they were not based on science and should not be set in stone. “It was too high, to begin with,“ he said. “It was just a number pulled out of a hat.”
Mr. Whyte also wants MNRF to conduct more research on perch and to release those findings to the public in a timely fashion. Currently, MNRF does not conduct specific creel surveys for perch, grouping them in with other fish species. This data is shared with fish management and stakeholder committees, but is not readily available to the public. For instance, several neighbouring U.S. states, including Michigan and Minnesota, publish this data online.
“Yellow Perch, in terms of a recreational fishery, is the single largest economic benefit to Lake Simcoe, and we get the least amount of research on it,” said Mr. Whyte. “We are just so far behind everyone else.”