• Nottawasaga Steelheaders Respond To MNR 1st Nation Agreement

    Attention to All Nottawasaga Steelheaders Members, Partners and Friends

    On behalf of our organization, I have officially responded to the recently published agreement between the MNR and the Saugeen Ojibway First Nations to allow commercial fishing in key and sensitive areas of Owen Sound, Colpoys Bay and Lake Huron.

    It covers a large area from below the Saugeen right around the Bruce Peninsula into Georgian Bay up to Craigleith.
    (Please be aware that the decision to proceed was done at high levels of the MNR)

    Media were also notified.

    It is important for other groups and individuals to respond by e-mail or letter!

    If you wish a copy of the agreement, please e-mail me at gchristie1@rogers.com

    From: Gary Christie [mailto:gchristie1@rogers.com]
    Sent: Monday, March 18, 2013 2:56 PM
    To: Honourable Kathleen Wynne; Honourable David Orazietti; bill.walker@pc.ola.org; Jim Wilson; Hon. Andrea Horwath; mikeschreiner@gpo.ca
    Cc: Claude Moreau; Walter Londero
    Subject: Nottawasaga Steelheaders Express Serious Concerns about recent SON Agreement

    To: The Honourable Kathleen Wynn, Premier of Ontario
    The Honourable David Orazietti, Minister of Natural Resources
    Mr. Bill Walker. Member of Parliament for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound
    Mr. Jim Wilson, Member of Parliament for Simcoe Gray
    Ms. Andrea Horwath, Leader of the NDP Party of Ontario
    Mr. Mike Schreiner, Leader of the Green Party of Ontario

    Dear Madam Premier, Minister of Natural Resources, Leader of the NDP, Leader of the Green Party and Members of Provincial Parliament:

    On behalf of our organization, the Nottawasaga Steelheaders, I would like to express my concerns about the recent agreement of The Ontario MNR with the Saugeen Ojibway First Nations with regards to commercial fishing.

    First of all this agreement was done without the input of organizations such as ours and many other key stake holders. We feel that a number of fish species existing in Lake Huron and Georgian Bay rivers could be affected. This could very likely include Nottawasaga River fish in migration.

    Allow me to give you a bit of background on our organization and why we are concerned.

    Rich History of the Nottawasaga River

    The Nottawasaga River, a key Southern Ontario waterway running through Dufferin, Grey and Simcoe counties into Lake Huron, is not on that list. It has a proud history, first as an important trade route for the Huron, Ouendat and Algonquin nations, then as a corridor for the fur trade and the lumber industry that shaped Canada. The Nottawasaga River was the setting for many of the most critical events of the War of 1812, as our website emphasizes. Today, the Nottawasaga River enjoys a large recreational base with large populations of tourists from the GTA and areas from Ontario and Canada. Angling is a major contributor to the local economies of communities such as Wasaga Beach and others along its 1800 kms of river.

    The Nottawasaga Steelheaders, Stewards of the Nottawasaga River Watershed for over Twenty Years

    The Nottawasaga Steelheaders is a volunteer group of anglers, conservationists and concerned residents who have been working in concert with The Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority, Ministry of Natural Resources and various communities to improve, rehabilitate and preserve the integrity of the Nottawasaga River watershed over the past twenty years. Over this time we have committed tens of thousands of man-hours and hundreds of thousands of dollar in many beneficial programs. These have included the removable of numerous barriers to fish migration, undertaken countless garbage pick-ups, tree plantings, stream bank stabilizations, cold water delivery projects, spawning ground improvements and commitments to ensure the survival of wild species in this watershed such wild steelhead. Our passion to preserve this important watershed has ignited the interest and commitment of many communities in Ontario. We are currently in the second year of undertaking the largest assessment of Nottawasaga River steelhead in a comprehensive 4-year study to understand their status. Anglers have noted smaller fish and lower numbers.

    The Nottawasaga River, Fisheries Which are Unique, Bio-diverse and Ecologically Sensitive

    Our organization was the first of its kind to undertake a comprehensive study to uncover the genetic diversity of migratory rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Eighteen (18) distinct strains were found, each with its own set of co-adaptive gene complexes established over a hundred years. The Nottawasaga River has the largest run of wild steelhead in Lake Huron-and Georgian Bay. It is only a doorstep from the netting zone of the SON agreement. Migratory steelhead and chinook salmon have no understanding or constraints on limitations to travel because of nets. Recent studies including those at the University of Western Ontario by Marklevitz and Morbey have determined that 35-40% of migratory Chinook salmon caught in Lake Huron and Georgian Bay are of Nottawasaga River origin! Recent studies also uncovered that almost 100% of the Chinook salmon in the Nottawasaga are wild and self-sustaining. This speaks highly of the complex and delicate interdependent biodiversity which has taken hundreds if not thousands of years to establish in this watershed. We are only starting to understand and appreciate this critical balance. Upsetting this delicate ecological balance can occur very quickly as happened to the walleye population and fishery which all but disappeared from the watershed in a matter of 5 years due to climate change and low water conditions and other stress factors. The Nottawasaga River walleye population is only one of two that are wetlands spawners. They spawn in and about the very sensitive Minesing Wetlands shallows and return to Georgian Bay and Lake Huron. Their migratory path is not fully understood in the Bay and Lake Huron. They could very well be impacted by nets and are not a target species.

    The Nottawasaga River, a Major Contributor to the Recreational Sport and Commercial Fisheries

    The Nottawasaga River is a major contributor to the Lake Huron, Georgian Bay recreational sport fishery which contributes tens of millions of dollars to local and distant economies in Ontario. A 2005 survey conducted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada found sport-fishing on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes generated $443 million– $228 million on boats, real estate and other “durable goods,” and another $215 million on food, lodging, charters and supplies. This does not include the impact to sporting goods outfitters remote to the great lakes but dependent on this fishery. The US Great Lakes Sport Fishery is $4.3 billion. Ryan Gilbert, who works with Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox’s anti-carp Web site, says the Great Lakes salmon fishing is apparently worth $7 billion to Michigan alone. These figures are now dated and it is easy to assume a greater set of income numbers created by the recreational and sport fishery in the great lakes. Michigan DNR and studies by Marklevitz and Morbey at University of Western Ontario have discovered that Nottawasaga Chinook Salmon are being caught by US anglers. This would likely apply to Nottawasaga River steelhead as well due to their migratory nature. Migratory salmonids do not adhere to international boundaries. Impacts due to these nets could very likely impact both Nottawasaga River based fisheries and their economies! Personally as a boat angler, I have caught both salmon and steelhead at various depths while down-rigging, which would rule out that gill nets can be effectively placed so as not to catch either of these species while targeting whitefish.

    Gill Net Mortality

    Even with specific gill net size, damage to non-target species can occur as the fish is entrapped by its gill covers causing damage to the gills. Anglers have caught steelhead in the Nottawasaga River with gill net marks on them indicating struggling fish trying to free themselves. Other successful, less damaging to non-target species and efficient methods of fish capture such as trap netting have been used in other Great Lakes such as Michigan by commercial and First Nations groups.

    Our concerns are the following:

    1.Financial support from the MNR to assist the SON Commercial Fishery. Why?
    2.Incidental catch of non target species such as steelhead and chinook salmon. What do they do with these species that are netted? Mortality issues while netting? Reports from anglers have suggested that First Nations commercial fisherman are keeping non-target species for sale as well.
    3.Time and Placement of nets during spawning/staging runs of sport fish such as steelhead, chinook, lake trout etc.
    4.Enforcement (It appears from past discussions that the MNR have a very thin enforcement team already. Past issues with First Nations have been treated delicately and not perhaps rightfully in order to protect the recreational fishery).
    5.Impact to watershed ecosystems due to decreased runs of river returning and lake migratory fish as well as decreases in target species which serve purpose in the ecological food chain
    6.Impact to recreational Sport Fisheries in Georgian Bay and Lake Huron
    7.Considerations of further extension of allowed netting areas which are even closer to the Nottawasaga River and other key feeder tributaries.
    8.Why were stake-holders such as ours not notified about this agreement?
    9.No studies have been undertaken to determine possible impact to the ecology and recreational fishery. The agreement appears to take a wait and see approach
    10.Trap Netting has a lower mortality on non-target species and has been used successfully in other Great Lakes such as Michigan. Why, if the netting by SON is subsidized by the MNR, aren’t the SON guided to Trap Netting?

    We take this decision very seriously and are trying to understand how to manage the issue and help preserve the Great Lakes Fisheries.

    We look forward to hearing back from you.
    Gary Christie

    President, Nottawasaga Steelheaders
    "Help us...put a little back"
    Visit our website at www.nottawasaga.org
    Phone: (905) 889-0396
    e-mail: gchristie1@rogers.com
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