The COVID-19 closure question

Fish on?

Making the case to keep Ontario's fishing season open—for now

There’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks as to whether Ontario’s fishing season will proceed, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown. As of this writing, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry says the April 25 trout opener will indeed go ahead.

Now, however, there’s talk as to whether the fishing season should proceed, and that talk is coming from with the angling community itself. Leading the charge is Angelo Viola, my friend and the co-host of TV’s Fish’n Canada Show. In fact, he says the season should not proceed, and he has even launched a petition urging the province to shut it down.

His reasoning? “Even under normal conditions, every river, creek and tributary that dumps into Lake Ontario, Georgian Bay, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and surrounding communities are jam-packed with anglers,” Angelo writes. “But this year, with the extraordinary conditions that this pandemic has bestowed on us, those visitor numbers could easily swell to double or triple the normal size. It could be the perfect storm: overcrowding, less-than-ideal hygiene, and lots of socializing with endless reasons to celebrate with a drink or two.”

I am torn here, because I am 100 per cent behind the province’s efforts to flatten the curve and put an end to the spread of this deadly virus.

First, full disclosure: As with the vast majority of anglers, I am looking forward to southern Ontario’s April 25 trout opener, then the May walleye opener, followed by the June bass openers. I also know how important fishing is to the many folks who rely on the sport for their sound mental health, not unlike those who rely on alcohol and cannabis to stave off their demons—hence the reasoning for keeping liquor and cannabis readily available.

In many respects, there’s already a near-blanket ban on fishing in some places owing to the closures of municipal, provincial and federal parks, docks, wharves, boat ramps and so on. For countless anglers, such areas were their main access points for wetting a line (the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters keeps an updated list of the closures here). These places are all closed to prevent folks from congregating, of course, and because keeping things such as washroom facilities free of COVID-19 would be near impossible. Then there’s the health of staff to consider.

There remain, however, numerous nearby places across the province where anglers can still enjoy a day on the water while following the COVID19 regulations, especially social distancing. This is particularly so for our friends in rural areas, the north and otherwise isolated communities, or for those who have exclusive access to private property. For many, fishing is already a solitary pursuit.

So, how about a compromise? What if we expanded the current closures of government-run facilities and properties by adding targeted closures of specific fisheries—but only if over-crowding becomes an issue and anglers fail to follow the COVID-19 regulations? We have to give people the benefit of the doubt that they will comply (OFAH offers some good safety tips in that regard).

Of course, keeping the season open anywhere would come with a caveat or two. It could only be done if the health of our Conservation Officers and other officials is not compromised, and, again, if the anglers themselves follow the COVID-19 regulations. And if people fail to practise social distancing and the like, they should be charged accordingly—the same as they would be charged if they broke the province’s liquor laws by cracking open a riverside beer.

Stay safe, everyone, and stay well. And please, don’t let COVID-19 tear our fishing community asunder because of conflicting opinions. When this is all over, after all, we may bump into each other on our favourite streams.

 

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