Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) are native only to North America and are distributed across the northeastern portion of the continent. In Ontario, there are at least 302 lakes and 105 streams and rivers, which support populations of muskellunge (OMNR 1987, Kerr 2001). Their distribution occurs in the southcentral and northwestern parts of the province. All of Ontario’s muskellunge fisheries are based on naturally reproducing stocks. The only muskellunge stocking program currently underway involves small plantings of fish in the Spanish River area of the North Channel, Lake Huron, which are intended to restore a degraded population. There is also interest in the rehabilitation of Lake Simcoe’s muskellunge population.
Muskellunge are a highly valued fish species. Ontario provides a wide diversity of angling opportunities ranging from those who merely wish to catch a fish to other anglers who may desire the opportunity to catch a trophy or even a world record.
A unique aspect of muskellunge fisheries is that most anglers practice a catch-and-release ethic with very little post-release mortality. It is estimated that less than 10% of the muskellunge angled from Ontario waters are actually harvested. This fact must be considered when regulatory options are being reviewed.
In Ontario, muskellunge have traditionally been managed on a regulatory basis by the use of closed seasons, catch and possession limits, size limit regulations and fish sanctuaries (see review by Kerr 1998). There have been two provincial reviews (1985 and 1999) of muskellunge regulations in the past. Over the past decade there has been a tendency for regulations to become increasingly complex and poorly rationalized. These guidelines have been prepared to 3 identify the most effective regulatory options to ensure sustainability and provide trophy fishing opportunities, based on existing science and current knowledge, and to simplify regulations, which are ultimately selected.