• Big changes in how outdoors projects are funded

    Spring steelhead are starting their spawning migration up local Grey and Bruce rivers.  This fine coloured male was landed on the Sydenham River in downtown Owen Sound this past Easter weekend.  This year's run is well behind the 2012 spawning migration due to more normal water temperatures and precipitation.The past couple of weeks have been interesting in terms of news on the MNR front. Some new provincial government policy decisions which will have a direct impact on both local and provincial fisheries and wildlife programs are currently in the works. New changes to the Community Fish and Wildlife Involvement Program will affect wildlife enhancement projects, hatchery operations such as fish stocking, volunteer driven projects and the operation of clubs that undertake fisheries management.

    On March 15th, the MNR announced the creation of two new programs to replace the former Community Fish and Wildlife Involvement Program (CFWIP). For decades, CFWIP has been the main avenue of funding and oversight from the MNR in relation to major works of volunteer clubs across the province. CFWIP is the primary source of funding for hatchery projects undertaken by volunteer clubs such as the SSA, BPSA and LHFC salmon and steelhead stocking programs in local waters.

    In a recent statement, the MNR announced that CFWIP will now be replaced by two separate programs. One being the new Land Stewardship and Habitat Restoration Program which will offer eligible organizations support to undertake land stewardship and habitat restoration projects such as stream and forest enhancement. This new program will see funding allocations up to $20,000 per project as opposed to the $4000 available in the old CFWIP framework. This means volunteer clubs will be able to undertake larger capital projects if funding is approved through the MNR. The LSHRP will be under the direct leadership of the MNR.

    The greatest change comes in the direction of the fish culture side of things. The MNR announced in the same memo that the government has come to an agreement with Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, which states that OFAH will now deliver funding destined for volunteer clubs who raise fish for stocking in numerous hatcheries across the province. The MNR will no longer be in charge of the allocation of funds, funds which are critical for small volunteer clubs who raise fish on behalf of users of the resource. The OFAH will now administer the funding (now called Community Hatchery Program) to the volunteer clubs.

    In the past, volunteer clubs have relied on MNR funding incentives to offset “some” of the costs of hatchery operations. Raising fish is not a cheap endeavor, and considering the amount of volunteer time required to run a salmon or trout hatchery, it seems like the $1000 or so the MNR allocated to a club for each species raised was a drop in the bucket of financial burden that is volunteer conservation. The new Community Hatchery Program, in the hands of the OFAH might yield better funding for some hatcheries.

    For those who aren’t familiar with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, the OFAH acts as non-profit and parent organization for 700 volunteer clubs across Ontario. The federation has a long history of acting as a champion for anglers and hunters of the province ranging back nearly a century. Thus it seems like the MNR’s decision to move some of the control over funding into the hands of the OFAH is a smart way of both delegating responsibility and giving more control of the resource to people who use it.

    However, there is a hurdle to consider. Not all volunteer fish and wildlife clubs are OFAH affiliates, and not all clubs who stock fish for Lake Huron and Georgian Bay are tied to the OFAH. The OFAH is not a provincial government faction, yet the organization now has the responsibility of doling out government cash to eligible clubs who raise fish for all anglers regardless of their affiliation.

    The new Community Hatchery Program, (under the direction of the OFAH) will see the MNR provide the OFAH with roughly $250,000 annually over the next 3yrs to deliver the program. The OFAH says that this “will provide a more targeted approach to funding and technical support for community hatcheries”. The MNR will still provide some scientific support and be responsible for issuing any permits required to obtain eggs for hatcheries. The MNR will also have the last word when it comes to setting targets for annual stocking in areas such as Lake Huron/Georgian Bay. But, ultimately it will be the OFAH who decides which clubs receive the funds and it will fall to them to become involved on a more intimate level with those clubs who do the hard work.

    The OFAH released a similar memo to the public this week, outlining the agreement between the MNR and the OFAH’s new duties in terms of funding. The memo noted that clubs wishing to secure CHP funding would not have to be OFAH affiliated organizations.

    This brings up some interesting questions. Will clubs who are not affiliated with the OFAH (as in some of our local clubs such as the Ontario Steelheaders and LHFC) and undertake large hatchery operations still get a fair shake in terms of the badly needed funding? How will some of the legal aspects such as insurance coverage for volunteers that was provided under the former CFWIP play out under the new CHP? Will the OFAH have a role in determining “which species” volunteer clubs raise? Will volunteer projects such as the “Classroom Hatchery Projects” still be considered? Will OFAH provide scientific aide in terms of monitoring disease in fish hatcheries? As the agreement begins to work its way into the system, many of these questions will need to be answered.

    Nearly 100,000 anglers and hunters across the province of Ontario are members of the OFAH, yet while the federation has a long history and great reputation amongst outdoorsmen, not every outdoorsman in the province is a member. Like many organizations that grow and become large, there are plenty who do not support the OFAH. Some of the issues on which the OFAH has taken a stance have been divisive. You can’t please everyone, but the OFAH should hope to try to please at least a majority of anglers and hunters in the province. Unfortunately, one only needs to look at the current Atlantic Salmon stocking project on Lake Ontario, in which the OFAH has been the major contributor and driving partner, to see the discord. This project deals directly with fish culture on a grand scheme has been hotly debated due to the fact that it has yet to show the results anticipated by the OFAH and MNR.

    Yet the very same can be said of the MNR. The Ministry’s aim is to care for our natural resources (albeit in many different ways) and yet they constantly come under scrutiny for decisions in fish and wildlife policy. Again, you can’t make everyone happy, that is just a fact of life.

    As the responsibility and control pass from the MRN to the OFAH, the kinks will be worked out and the bumps in the road smoothed. With time we will see whether this decision to practically “privatize” a government funding program will have positive or adverse effects on local clubs, both OFAH affiliated and not. Here in Grey Bruce, we must wait to see what, if any, effect the new program will have on local endeavors by volunteers to raise and stock fish for all of the anglers in our region. As the spring trout run is underway and local clubs will be collecting eggs for their hatcheries, I am sure that those involved will be keeping a close eye on any forthcoming information concerning the new agreement. After all, whether we belong to MNR, OFAH, local club, or simply outdoors, we all have the conservation of local fish and wildlife in mind.
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