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Ontario boaters question the rules surrounding boat launch closures

Click to play video: 'Local boaters upset over the inconsistent rules surrounding boat launches' Local boaters upset over the inconsistent rules surrounding boat launches
While marinas remain closed under the stay-at-home order, with boat launches it's a bit unclear. The confusion has boaters asking why some are closed, while others are open. Frazer Snowdon has more. – May 6, 2021

With the warmer weather coming around, boaters are itching to head out on the water.

And while you can’t find an open boat launch in the GTA or Durham Region, if you hit the highway you’re bound to find one somewhere — an inconsistency that doesn’t make any sense to local fisherman Shaun Rickard.

“The fact that we can’t come down here and launch our boats and go out in the middle of the lake by ourselves is ridiculous,” says Rickard, who says fishing is his means of escape.

“For me, it’s everything,” he says. “It’s the way I relieve stress, sort of all the worries of every day life. It’s just relaxing.”

Rickard, like thousands of fishermen, has been landlocked due to boat launches and marinas being closed. Under the provincial emergency orders, boat owners can access their local marinas to maintain and service them and use some of the some of the services. However, they cannot head out on the open water for recreational use.

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But for boat launches it’s another story, as the decision has been left to municipalities on whether or not they open them.

“It’s not the same,” says Rickard. “Pretty much anything east or westa of here are open, further north. Essentially it’s Durham and Toronto that have sort of arbitrarily decided to go over and above the lockdown order right now.”

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When it comes to Durham Region, Global News confirmed most public launches are closed as far east as Cobourg and it’s much the same for the main boat launches in the GTA as well. But if you head outside the area, you can find some open for business.

Global News reached out to several municipalities outside of Durham Region, where we discovered there are pockets of some boat launches that are open.

Although Cobourg has closed their ramps, Belleville is open, limited to locals. Kingston is open as well. If you go north to cottage country and beyond, you’ll also find some there. Darcy Bennett manages Little Red Bay Marina in Wiarton, located in the South Bruce Peninsula. Bennett says he opened up after being given the go-ahead by his medical officer of health, something he thinks makes sense.

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“What’s the harm of letting people go fishing?” he says. “They come and use the boat ramp, there’s no contact. Each group is in their own boat and there’s no harm.”

Lauren Tonelli with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters says with the inconsistent rules it creates confusion for their membership.

“People are being told to stay home, but their local boat launches are closed. But the next town over is open. It creates an opinion of unfairness,” says Tonelli.

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The OFAH says members have expressed frustration with the whole situation and they are advocating to the government for change.

“We’ve reached out to the province to both ask them to reopen Crownland camping as soon as possible and provide municipalities with clarification on hopefully opening their boat launches,” she says.

For Richmond Hill resident Greg Amiel, it’s confusing to think that an activity where one is in the middle of the water can be a problem. He runs a fishing charter company, so restricting use for him not only takes away his recreational use, but also a source of income.

“Keeping a lot of guys like me off the water, out of pay and stuff, is a little hard on the family,” says Ameil. “Not being allowed to go out by myself or with my own family to put food on the table, or just have an enjoyable boat day, it’s hard, you know.”

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The port of Whitby is one of the larger marinas in the region and is also closed. Keenan Watters, marina supervisor, says they understand the frustrations of residents and they will make the move, when they think it’s safe.

Click to play video: 'Party boat stays afloat despite heightened restrictions' Party boat stays afloat despite heightened restrictions
Party boat stays afloat despite heightened restrictions – Apr 4, 2021

“We’re just trying to extend a little bit more and make sure it’s safe to open before doing so,” he says.

“When they do open, we will be in the area with a high number of users. So that does factor into our decision-making.”

Global News reached out to the province for comment on the confusion surrounding the situation, but did not get a response in time for publication.

Municipalities say they will continue to monitor the situation and hope to have more clarity around the issue once the stay-at-home order is lifted.

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