Up the creek without a license
Written by Globe and Mail   
Saturday, 30 September 2006 15:11

Fall fishing season is hitting high gear with the annual salmon run up the Greater Toronto Area's major rivers, but police and wildlife officials are on the look out for a catch of another kind: poachers.

Mingling among the fishermen with permits are the unlicensed and the "snaggers," who cast their lures in prohibited areas, hoping to pull a pregnant chinook or coho out of the pools of water where they congregate during the marathon push upriver. The Old Mill on the Humber River, just north of Bloor Street West, is one of Toronto's hot spots for illegal fishing. A small chunk of concrete along the top edge of the dam has been carved away, creating a synthetic fish leap -- and a perfect spot to snag an illegal haul.

Despite several signs telling anglers to keep at least 60 metres away from the dam, the area below the opening continues to have a "chronic" problem with poachers, according to enforcement officer Bill Lafferty of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. During spawning season, which runs into October, many are there specifically for the salmon's eggs, or roe, which are considered a delicacy. Some poachers will gut the fish on the spot and leave the carcasses to rot.

"When the fish are running, we can lay 30 charges, go have coffee, come back and there'd be another 20 [charges]," Mr. Lafferty says. "We get down there as much as we can."

The situation has become so severe at the Old Mill and in the Streetsville area of the Credit River that the ministry brought in the marine units of the Toronto Police and Peel Regional Police for a major plainclothes operation that began late yesterday afternoon at the two locations. Up to 12 officers, equipped with night-vision and infrared gear, were to patrol the areas until about 6 a.m. One officer involved in the sweep, who asked not to be identified, said there have been reports of active poaching in the early hours of the morning.

While chinook and coho salmon were added to Lake Ontario for the specific purpose of sport fishing, Atlantic salmon are more tightly controlled; fry have been released into the region's major waterways in an attempt to restore a species that was extirpated from Lake Ontario before the end of the 19th century. The project, which is partly funded by Australia's Banrock Station Winery, hopes to have a self-sustaining population of Atlantic salmon running up Lake Ontario's tributaries by 2020.

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, which is currently involved in efforts to restore Lake Ontario with native Atlantic salmon, says the overwhelming majority of the province's two million fishermen don't flout the Fisheries Act.

"What you're seeing are some of the bad apples," says OFAH spokesman Robert Pye.

"It absolutely reinforces our view that the MNR needs to enforce the regulations."

Mr. Lafferty, who is responsible for enforcement in the GTA, admits that his department can rarely swoop down quickly on the offending anglers; still, a quick sweep of the Old Mill on Monday by his enforcement staff and police officers netted six illegal fishermen, who were fined up to $125.
 
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