Ontario rolling out new rules for baitfish and leeches when fishing


Ontario is rolling out new rules related to the use and movement of baitfish and leeches when fishing in the province. This is all part of the province’s plan to prevent the spread of invasive species as well as diseases like viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) that can devastate Ontario’s fish stocks.

Starting on January 1st, 2022, Ontario will be divided into four Bait Management Zones (BMZs) —Northwest, Northeast, Central and Southern. Anglers, if you live in the zone where you are fishing, you will be permitted to harvest and use baitfish and leeches in that zone. If you are fishing outside the zone in which you reside, then you will need to purchase and use baitfish and leeches from the BMZ where you are fishing.

Check ontario.ca/baitfish for updates on BMZs.

Baitfish and leeches can only be moved within the BMZ where they were harvested or purchased, with some exceptions, including moving baitfish and leeches into an adjacent Great Lake or a portion of the Ottawa River.

Anglers fishing in their home BMZ should be prepared to show government issued identification to demonstrate their place of residence. Anglers using live bait outside of their home BMZ must purchase their baitfish and leeches and can keep them for up to two weeks. They must also keep a legible receipt after you have purchased them to show to a conservation officer.

These changes come after years of research, data collection and consultation with anglers in the province. Anglers are also reminded to:

  • Safely dispose contents of your bait container at least 30 metres from any lake, pond, river or stream
  • Dispose of fish waste, heads and tails in the garbage, not waterways, when cleaning fish
  • Put unwanted roe or baitfish in the garbage
  • Empty livewells and bilges away from water, where the water will be absorbed into the ground
  • Inspect and disinfect your gear, if necessary

Check ontario.ca/baitfish for updates on BMZs.

Just how vulnerable are Ontario Lakes to aquatic invasive species?

Ministry researchers and partners studied the effects of human population and climate change on invasive species. They considered the potential for aquatic invasive species to arrive, survive and spread, developing models to predict which regions of Ontario are at greatest risk for new invasions now and in future. Researchers factored in whether habitat was suitable for species to move into new waterbodies, either through their own efforts or human activities.

Some key findings:

  • With projected climate change, more habitat may become suitable for invasive species, especially in the north
  • Prevention requires a mix of control methods, such as education and regulation
  • Effects of some human activities (such as aquarium and water garden ownership) are concentrated near highly populated areas while others (boat-based fishing and recreational boating) help aquatic invasive species spread throughout the province
  • Human activities connect otherwise isolated parts of the province
  • Newly invaded waterbodies can be a source for invasion of other (nearby) waterbodies

These results will be used to help prevent the establishment and spread of aquatic invasive species to protect Ontario’s lakes.

You can help minimize invasive species spread by:

  • cleaning, draining, and drying equipment
  • properly using and disposing of live bait
  • learning to identify invasive species

Want more info? Request the report by emailing [email protected].



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