By Chris Marshall
As fly fishers, we tend to be more conservationally aware and
active than most other anglers. Consequently, we've opposed
governmental downsizing and budget slashing in both provincial
and federal ministries responsible for fisheries management and
protection of aquatic habitats. It's bad enough watching vital
programs curtailed or cancelled and essential staff let go, but
it really rubs salt into the wounds when government can't find the
cash for conservation can find it for public relations.
Our field editor for Southern Ontario, A.J. Somerset, supplied
us with an example of such a confusion of priorities this
summer: It specifies the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources,
but the message is for fly fishers whereever they may live. Here
it is. ~ Chris Marshall
On the 27th of June, Ontario's Bill 135 was granted Royal Assent,
and so the Heritage Hunting and Fishing Act came into force. This
law purports to recognize the right of Ontarians to hunt and fish,
and has been greeted with breathless enthusiasm by
pro-hunting-and-fishing lobby groups such as the Canadian Outdoor
Heritage Alliance and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.
Supposedly, this law will forever protect us from "the antis,"
and in the outdoor press it has been above criticism. Lobby
groups and newspaper columns exhorted us all to make supportive
comments on the Environmental Bill of Rights posting concerning
the bill, and 97 percent of the comments posted were supportive.
But exactly what was everyone supporting?
Apart from establishing a Fish and Wildlife Heritage Commission,
the Heritage Hunting and Fishing Act does absolutely nothing.
This legislation is essentially a sop thrown to Ontario's anglers
and hunters, who are variously angry about cancelled bear hunts,
slashed unding to the MNR, and assorted other grievances. It
is little more than a legislative group hug between the
government and oudoor lobby groups.
At a mere four pages - in both official languages - including the
cover page and an other-wise-blank page bearing a summary of the
bill, this act is slim indeed. This is what is actually says: "A
person has the right to hunt and fish in accordance with the law."
This, of course, is precisely the right that we have all enjoyed
for years, and a single sentence in a provincial law does nothing
to protect or preserve that right. This is not a "right" as
guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which cannot
be limited or revoked without a long and painful bout of constitutional
reform. Any future provincial government can revoke it simply by
amending the Act. In short, this "legal right" is not a "right"
Yet COHA refers to the Act as "a most positive piece of landmark
legislation." Meanwhile, groups such as the Canadian Parks and
Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, Freedom for Animals, ARK II,
Zoocheck, and the Peaceful Parks Coalition campaigned actively
against it. Why such strong reactions to such empty legislation?
The answer is public relations. The Fish and Wildlife Heritage
Commission created by this Act is charged with the responsibility
to make recommendations to the Minister regarding the promotion
of sport fishing and hunting. Animal rights groups, obviously
spend most of their time and money doing exactly the opposite, and
they can't be expected to sit by quietly as the government provides
a mechanism for public participation in promoting fishing and
hunting. Naturally, they howled with anger, and groups such as
COHA, which is dedicated to no other purpose than fighting them,
It's difficult to critize the creation of the Fish and Wildlife
Heritage Commission, because actively promoting fishing is the best
way to guarantee its future. But for anglers who don't hunt, many
of whom don't view "the antis" as anything more than an annoyance,
there are higher priorities. Even those who feel that angling
is under threat also recognize that real conservation measures
are equally important to the future of fishing.
And that is the crux of the problem. Instead of supporting laws
handing out "rights" as window dressing, we need to demand that
our MNR is adequately funded to do the work it is mandated to
do - which at present, according to Ministry sources, it is not.
Anglers must remember that fishing has no future without healthy
fisheries - and that putting our energy into keeping our streams,
rivers, and lakes healthy is the best public-relations work we can
ever do. ~ A. J. Somerset