Anglers can fish for lake herring from Lake Simcoe again
Based on a positive trend in lake herring populations, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) has re-opened the fishery on Lake Simcoe.
Anglers have been anxiously awaiting the opportunity, said Matt DeMille, manager of fish and wildlife services for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH).
“This is something our members have wanted for many years. It has taken patience and persistence to achieve, but in the end it is an excellent example of OFAH collaboration with MNRF and other stakeholders to provide increased fishing opportunities for OFAH members and the entire anglingcommunity,” DeMille said.
Lake Simcoe is the fourth largest inland lake in the province providing some of the most sought after angling opportunities throughout the year. But in past decades the lake has faced environmental issues leading to poor water quality and degraded coldwater habitat.
The MNRF closed the Lake Herring season on Lake Simcoe in 2001 as the population was in steady decline.
Government and non-government groups come together to improve the water quality by advancing sewage treatments, restricting livestock from tributaries and reducing soil erosion and urban runoff and fisheries data started showing a steady increase in lake herring numbers, ministry spokesperson Galen Eagle said.
The OFAH and other members of the Lake Simcoe Fisheries Stakeholder Committee asked the MNRF to collect the necessary data to determine whether an open lake herring fishery could be sustainable.
Although hesitant in the beginning, the MNRF has dedicated significant time and resources to collecting this data during the last few years, Eagle said.
Herring back on Lake Simcoe menu
By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner January 9, 2015
The fishing just got better in Lake Simcoe.
As of New Year’s Day, Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) reintroduced an open season for cisco, or lake herring, for the first time in 14 years.
“They can be fun to catch and provide additional angling opportunities for ice anglers,” Wil Wegman, resource management technician with the ministry, said of lake herring.
“Cisco are often suspended throughout the water column … and therefore not really close to the bottom like whitefish and perch or even lake trout. Finding and catching them suspended can be an added challenge and add to the allure these fish have on the lake.”
Lake Simcoe’s cisco population once provided a major food source for several species of sport fish, as well as a significant recreational fishery, according to the MNRF.
However, by the late 1980s, their numbers decreased due to a lack of natural reproduction. To protect the cisco population in the lake, the recreational fishery closed in 2001.
Habitat degradation, including low dissolved oxygen, was identified as a primary cause of failure for many cold-water species in Lake Simcoe, including cisco. But habitat conditions have since improved and resulted in a natural reproduction of lake herring.
“Historically … cisco were a very popular species with Lake Simcoe anglers as not only are they fun to catch but also tasty,” Wegman said. “Many anglers prefer to smoke or even pickle herring they catch. ‘Old-timers’ remember days before the 1980s, when they could catch a bushel-basket full (legally) of cisco, but the current generation has only heard of such stories.
“I have already heard of grandfathers who remember those days and they can’t wait to take their grandkids fishing for the same species they once thought they would never again see in our lake, let alone be able to fish for them.”
Wegman said reopening Lake Simcoe as a cisco fishery speaks volumes about the health of the lake, including Lake Couchiching and tributaries for MNRF management purposes.
“Our public consultation process has demonstrated that anglers are happy with a much more conservative limit and that they just appreciate the opportunity to be able to fish for this historically significant native species on the lake,” Wegman said.
The MNRF received invaluable expertise and advice from the Lake Simcoe Fisheries Stakeholder Committee and the Lake Simcoe Fisheries Management Committee, comprising fishery scientists, MNRF and Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change staff.
The MNRF also hosted public consultation that included an online comment process and three open houses. The most common response from stakeholder groups was to reopen a limited recreational fishery for cisco on Lake Simcoe with a conservative limit and season.
“Prior to 2001, MNRF assessment programs and anglers only caught the occasional cisco … and many of those fish caught were above average size, indicating that natural reproduction was minimal,” Wegman said. “So, the season was closed to protect the remaining cisco in hopes that they would recover as water quality and spawning habitat conditions improved.
“Over this past handful of years, MNRF staff started seeing more cisco during their fisheries-monitoring work on the lake. Further investigation showed a successful year class of cisco had occurred in 2004. Then, in 2008 and 2012, there were also very successful year classes. Science indicates the population is recovering and we have moved to reopen the cisco fishery,” he said.
More people fish Lake Simcoe during the winter than at any other time of year, making it the most intensively fished inland lake in Ontario, according to the MNRF.