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Monday, January 22, 2007

Ice not Safe!

Ice not solid enough for snowmobiles

Keep off the ice, snowmobilers are being warned.

Two snowmobiles crashed through the ice on Lake Scugog Wednesday evening. A 52-year-old man and 15-year-old girl were treated for minor injuries after Port Perry firefighters rescued them.

Despite the recent drop in temperature, there has not been sufficient time for bodies of water to freeze enough to support the weight of the snow vehicles.

"We certainly wouldn't recommend it with these few cold days and night that anyone would venture on to ice, especially in southern Ontario," Paul Shaughnessy, executive director of the Ontario Federation of Snowmobiliers, said yesterday.

He said if snowmobilers don't know the conditions of the ice, "don't go, period."

In Wednesday's accident, the man and the girl were operating separate snowmobiles and drove on to the lake after seeing other snowmobile tracks. When they noticed the ice thinning, they tried to turn around, but it was too late.

York Regional Police issued a warning yesterday that it's still too dangerous to be on Lake Simcoe, a favourite ice- fishing spot.

Police urge people to wear floatation devices, not to fish or snowmobile alone, let people know where you'll be, know the ice and weather conditions and be suspicious of grey, dark or porous spots in the ice as they may be soft. Blue ice is generally strongest.

Shaughnessy said the basic rule of thumb is to stay off the ice unless it's a marked route that has been checked over by qualified people.

"Typically, when you hear of these incidents, it's people who are going on to unchartered areas," he said. "They are going in areas where it's not a marked route. They're usually following the tracks of someone else, or they're even going in an area where there are no tracks.

"Certainly don't go on the basis that you saw somebody's else's tracks. That doesn't indicate that it's a safe surface. You have no idea what the vehicle was, what the individual was doing ... you have no idea what speed or what weight you're dealing with."

Friday, January 12, 2007

Bait shop owners furious at ministry

Bait shop owners furious at ministry

NEWBORO -- Rodger Norris says it came "out of the blue."

The bait shop owner is slamming the Ministry of Natural Resources today, claiming it has gutted half of his business by banning the harvest of baitfish from the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River system.

"I'm certainly not happy, that's for sure," Norris said from his business, Norris's Bait and Tackle, located between Newboro and Westport, on Tuesday.

"That's our livelihood they are playing with. É It's 50 per cent for me, but some of them, they are out."

Norris purchased his licence to take baitfish in the eastern Lake Ontario region less than five years ago.

He said he's upset because the new regulations have blindsided him as there was no consultation.

"I'm going to fight it. I'm not going down without swinging," he vowed.

Regulations announced Monday by Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay restrict commercial baitfish harvesting in any waters south of Highway 401 across Ontario, including the St. Lawrence River.

The restrictions are the first step in what a ministry spokesman told The Recorder and Times will be a comprehensive strategy to contain the spread of viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS).

As many as 13 species in the Great Lakes system have been affected by the deadly virus, which does not affect humans.

VHS has been linked to the mass deaths of tens of thousands of fish, including hundreds of dead muskie found floating in the St. Lawrence River in the spring of 2005.

The restrictions are largely aimed at bigger commercial harvesters in the Niagara River and Lake Erie regions who supply much of the live bait to shops across Ontario.

But Norris said they've also hit hard the many harvesters with licences for catches in eastern Lake Ontario and along the St. Lawrence River.

And Norris said the end result, in his opinion, is the baitfish restrictions will do nothing to control the spread of VHS, which he claimed hasn't even been linked to live bait.

Like other critics, he said individual anglers will continue to take baitfish from the restricted zone into inland lakes because there are simply too few MNR conservation officers to police the region.

Further, he noted the inland lakes are naturally connected to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence.

"It's something that they haven't even looked at," he scoffed.

Serge Carriere of Ottawa is another one of those affected, but said he expects to be able to survive by relying on catches in inland lakes, particularly Lake Simcoe.

But he sympathized with those in Norris's boat, who he said have had "both legs cut out" by the ministry.

"I don't blame him at all," Carriere said of Norris's angry response.

He also joined Norris in speculating the MNR's move is simply aping a similar set of restrictions announced recently in the U.S.

"It's all the States that drove them to shut it down," said Norris.

"We've got to do what the States do," Carriere added.

Carriere supplies several bait shops in the Thousand Islands and said, in the short term at least, he doesn't forecast large price increases or supply shortages for his customers.

But as Carriere, Norris and dozens of other commercial harvesters begin to look inland for a supply of minnows, what happens to that resource?

"Two or three years and Lake Simcoe is going to be empty," said Carriere.

Inland lakes in a large swath of the province were placed in a so-called buffer zone by the MNR on Monday.

The restrictions mean baitfish can be harvested and transported within the buffer zone and to the restricted zone, but not further north.

Norris said the pressure that's about to hit those inland lakes will devastate the resource.

It's that scenario that worries Terry Nicholson who runs R&T Live Bait east of Johnstown.

"It's the only part of the business. I'm a bait dealer and that's it," said Nicholson, indicating it's supply and not cost that's his concern.

Like many bait dealers contacted in the wake of the announcement, Nicholson said the only information he had was what he'd heard through the media - there was no official word from the MNR.

"There's a lot of rumours," said Paul Rice, owner of Dad's Gone Fishing in Brockville.

Rice was still waiting to talk to his suppliers and said he didn't feel comfortable commenting on the new rules.

In Ivy Lea, David Roy, co-owner of Cast and Blast Outdoors said he is willing to give the ministry a chance to let the regulations work.

"These invasive species can do so much damage," said Roy, who did admit to being somewhat skeptical that the baitfish ban will be a magic bullet.

"On the sportfishing side I don't see it causing any big problem," he said of the restrictions, adding already a majority of anglers prefer artificial lures to live bait.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Time to get serious

Governments are going to have to get serious about investing in infrastructure and managing growth around Lake Simcoe if the lake is to stand any chance of recovering, said Simcoe North MPP Garfield Dunlop.

Last November, he introduced a private members’ bill, the Lake Simcoe legislation calling on the province to embrace comprehensive watershed protection for Lake Simcoe.

“I had the support of all three parties,” he said. It’s a good first step, but he wants the province to do more.

“I’ve been around politics for 25 years and in that time there has been all this talk on the pressures on the lake.” During that time, there has been excessive development throughout the county and infrastructure has not kept pace.

He would like to see leaking septic beds upgraded and new water treatment plants ensure water heading to the lake is clean. “The province has a huge responsibility in improving the water quality in the lake,” he said. There needs to be money made available for infrastructure, septic beds and storm and waste water treatment systems.

This work should have been done years ago, he acknowledged. “I’m going to press my party to put some policies in place, and keep it on the front burner. ”

Dunlop is calling on all provincial parties to include protection of the Lake Simcoe watershed in their platforms before this fall’s provincial election.

Studies of the lake over the years have shown the water quality has deteriorated to the point that it can no longer support a cold-water fishery. Dunlop points out that the lake is not only valuable for its beauty, but many industries, including fishing and tourism, rely on it economically.

Increasingly, protecting Lake Simcoe has become a key concern to many local residents, and last summer Dunlop held a number of public consultations to hear their suggestions on what should be done to deal with the current problem and reduce the contaminants entering the lake.

A survey done last year showed almost 80 per cent of county residents would support green space protection legislation for the county, similar to the province’s Greenbelt legislation.

Last year, the province passed this legislation that effectively freezes development in the rural land bordering the GTA. Simcoe County was not included. Already, there is a leapfrog effect taking place as developers eye the county’s real estate.

“If we’re going to have growth, let’s make sure the infrastructure is in place first and that development is sustainable.” Development should take place within the existing urban boundaries.

Uncontrolled development along the lake and its watershed is one of the key issues facing the lake.

“We’ve got a problem here,” said Dunlop. “We have to do more.”

It’s going to take a lot of money to solve the problems, he cautioned. “We can’t put it off until the next government,” he said. “We’ve got to start addressing it now and have a plan in place.”

A report released last year estimates the county will be home to an additional 250,000 residents over the next 25 years. “Twenty-five years rolls around very quickly.”

Monday, January 08, 2007

Mississauga man has been fined $1,000 for taking too many yellow perch

A Mississauga man has been fined $1,000 for taking too many yellow perch from Lake Simcoe.

John Brucki, 52, pleaded guilty to catching and retaining yellow perch over the limit that is allowed for one day. In addition to the fine, his fishing cooler was forfeited to the Crown and his fishing licence was suspended for one year.

The court heard that on Oct. 18, 2006, a Ministry of Natural Resources conservation officer, inspecting anglers on Lake Simcoe, counted 82 perch in Brucki’s cooler, 32 over the limit. All of the fish had been caught that day.

The limit of yellow perch for Lake Simcoe in one day with a regular sport fishing licence is 50, and the possession limit is 100. A conservation licence has catch and possession limits of 25 and 50 respectively.

Justice of the Peace H. Rodtke heard the case in the Federal Court in Barrie.

To report a natural resource violation, call 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667) toll free any time or contact the Midhurst District office at 705-725-7500 during regular business hours.

You can also call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).