Guidelines for competitive fishing events for muskellunge in Ontario

Competitive fishing is a growing industry in Ontario (Kerr and Kamke 2003, Kerr 2004). Bass (Micropterus spp.) are the most commonly targeted species at these events. Although competitive fishing events for muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) have been relatively uncommon to date, there apparently is increasing interest in organizing these events on some of Ontario’s trophy muskellunge waters. There are already several large muskellunge tournaments in adjacent U.S. jurisdictions. Muskellunge are subject to physiological stress associated with capture and handling (Miles et al. 1974, Beggs et al. 1980). With the unique nature of wild muskellunge stocks in Ontario, their vulnerability as a low density predator, and a strong desire to protect the fishery, there was the need to develop best management practices for tournaments specifically directed toward muskellunge. While it is believed that large prize tournaments for muskellunge should be strongly discouraged due to the unique characteristics of the species (low density populations and high susceptibility to post-release mortality), the following guidelines have been developed for tournament organizers who may still choose to hold a muskellunge tournament in Ontario. These guidelines endorse a varying or “tiered” approach for different events depending upon the magnitude of the event, characteristics of the muskellunge population in that water body, and the minimum size limits which are in place. It is proposed that a more cautious approach be taken in those events being held in low population density, less sustainable fisheries (e.g., trophy waters) and where fish are being retained for longer periods of time in order to verify size for entry into the event. Appendix 1 provides an outline of the Tiered Approach to Tournament Guidelines.Guidelines on good catch-and-release practices for one species may not be appropriate for other species (Tufts 1999, Cooke and Suski 2004). These guidelines are not intended to apply to tournaments involving other fish species although there may be some practical application of these practices to other fisheries.

There are a number of key principles which form the foundation of these guidelines:
1. Competitive fishing is recognized as a legitimate activity in Ontario with many
social and economic benefits.
2. At catch-and-release events every effort should be made to ensure fish
experience minimal stress in order to maximize post-release survival. Catchand-
kill events for muskellunge should be discouraged.
3. Competitive fishing events should not threaten sustainability of the resource.
4. Competitive fishing events must comply with the Ontario Fishery Regulations and
the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.
5. Safety should be a top priority

Competitive Fishing in Ontario Workshop Proceedings, Workshop Proceedings WP-O1

There is little doubt that the popularity of competitive fishing has increased considerably in the past decade. Although accurate records on individual events are generally not available, it is believed that there are several hundred competitive fishing events, including tournaments, derbies and contests, across Ontario each year. These events span all seasons of the year, include both inland and Great Lakes waters, and target a wide variety of fish species. Despite their increasing popularity and obvious economic benefits to local economies, there are several controversial issues with respect to competitive fishing events. These include concerns about boating safety, the impacts of handling, weigh-in and release techniques of angled fish, interference with the activities of shoreline residents, the potential of overharvesting local fish stocks, impacts on other aquatic biota (e.g., nesting water birds), and competition with other non-tournament anglers. One of the primary functions of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resource’s (MNR) science division is to collate and disseminate new science and pertinent information to both resource users and managers. One means of accomplishing this task is to organize and host interactive workshops. Three other workshops (“Bass Management in Ontario” in 1994; “Managing Muskies in the 90s” in 1995; and “Science in the Southeast” in 1997) have been held in southeastern Ontario in the past five years. A two day workshop on competitive fishing events was held at the Kemptville College of Agricultural Technology on March 12 and 13, 1999. The workshop was organized by the Southcentral Sciences Section of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. The objective of the workshop was to assemble a mix of speakers to summarize recent research activities and management approaches as well as review various issues and concerns with respect to competitive fishing in Ontario. The workshop format included presentations by 16 different speakers. Time was allotted for questions and general discussion after each presentation. The workshop concluded with a general synopsis and overview summarizing highlights of individual presentations and items of general discussion. The interest in competitive fishing was evident by the fact that, despite inclement late winter weather conditions, at least eighty people attended the event. Workshop attendees included fisheries managers and researchers from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, fishing tournament organizers, tournament anglers, representatives from local sportsmans organizations and cottage associations, and unaffiliated anglers. These workshop proceedings have been assembled to document the formal presentations at the workshop and transfer this information to those who were not in attendance.

A survey of 2008 competitive fishing events in Ontario

A survey was conducted to gather information on competitive fishing activities in Ontario during 2008. Information on 1,039 events was recorded. At least 71 of these events have been run annually for more than a decade. The majority (~ 73%) of competitive fishing activities were concentrated on inland waters particularly in southern Ontario. Based on comparisons with previous surveys, it is evident that competitive fishing continues to expand in Ontario. Other changes include an increase in the number of fish species being caught, an increase in the number of youth and family oriented events and more events during the spring, summer and fall. It is recommended that another survey be conducted in 4-5 years in order to continue monitoring this activity.

A 2004 survey of competitive fishing events in Ontario

A provincial survey was conducted to obtain information on competitive fishing activities which occurred in Ontario during 2004. Information on a total of 680 events is summarized. This represents a 31% increase from the number of events documented during a 1999 survey. The majority of events (61.8%) were situated on inland waters of southern Ontario followed by the Great Lakes (20.3%). Most events lasted only one day in duration. Fish and game clubs and professional tournament series accounted for the organization of 434 competitive fishing events (63.8%). Bass were the most commonly targeted species accounting for 42.6% of all events. Other popular species included walleye (13.3%) and northern pike (8.8%). Based on the results of this survey, several issues were identified and recommendations are offered for consideration. A similar survey should be conducted again in 2009.

Competitive fishing in freshwaters of North America

A survey of competitive fishing activities in Canadian and U. S. jurisdictions was conducted during the summer-autumn of 2000 and the winter of 2001. Responses to a survey involving 10 questions were received from all 62 state, provincial, and territorial agencies contacted. Respondents reported 19,371 events and we estimate that over 25,000 competitive fishing events were held in 2000. Several social and biological issues associated with competitive fishing activities were reported. Social issues included congestion at access points, safety concerns, and conflicts with non-tournament anglers. Biological issues included increased fishing pressure, initial and delayed mortality, impacts of fish relocation, and the potential transfer of exotic species. There has been an increase in the development of policies and regulations associated with competitive fishing since the last survey was conducted in 1989 and it appears that more are being planned for the future. Approximately one-half of all North American jurisdictions now have a requirement to obtain a permit for an organized competitive fishing event. Research is needed to address potential impacts and to develop best management practices for competitive fishing activities.

The status of competitive fishing in North America

Organized competitive sportfishing has been a growing use of fishery resources for at least the last 20 years. We conducted a survey of fishery agencies in Canada, the United States, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands to estimate the numbers and types of competitive fishing events in inland and marine waters and to determine fishery agency perceptions of the benefits and problems associated with these events. Based on survey responses, there were 20,697 competitive fishing events annually. Adjusting for agencies that did not provide estimates and incomplete reporting, we estimated that there were at least 31,000 competitive fishing events annually. Most competitive fishing events were for black bass in inland waters and billfish in marine waters, but events targeted many species of fish. In inland waters, events for species other than black bass appear to be increasing. Prevalent problems of competitive fishing perceived by fishery management agencies were stimulation and concentration of fishing effort, conflicts among user groups, and impeded access. Prevalent benefits of competitive fishing were economical acquisition of catch and biological data, promotion of recreational fishing, and communication between agencies and anglers. Our survey indicated the need for accurate (rather than estimated) and current data about competitive fishing and further investigations of sociological aspects, economic values, and biological impacts of competitive fishing events.