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New Manitoba fishing limits causing concern among some tournament anglers

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New Manitoba fishing limits causing concern among some tournament anglers
Manitoba has introduced new fishing regulations this spring, and some anglers are voicing concerns over the impact they will have on local fishing tournaments. Marney Blunt reports – May 8, 2023

Manitoba has introduced new fishing regulations this spring, and some anglers are voicing concerns over the impact they will have on local fishing tournaments.

The province’s new regulations, which came into effect on April 1, change when you can fish and what you can keep.

The fishing season in Manitoba is now open year round, with exceptions for certain areas and for certain species including walleye, lake trout, and sturgeon. It also introduced a new single annual licence with smaller possession limits.

As an example, anglers used to be able to keep six walleye, now they can keep four not exceeding 55 cm in length.

Eric Labaupa, a competitive angler and creator of KickerFish.ca, says the changes are a great boost for conservation efforts in the province.

“The province implementing these new regulations is — generally speaking — fantastic,” Labaupa told Global News.

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“Increasing access to the sport and at the same time, helping protect the resource for years to come — all good, it’s great.”

But the new regulations also change size limits, meaning anglers can no longer keep trophy-sized fish, including no walleye over 55 cm; no smallmouth bass over 45 cm; no lake trout over 65 cm; and no northern pike over 75 cm. Labaupa says many have concerns over how these rules will impact the Manitoba fishing tournament scene.

“The effect on tournaments, though, in the angling scene — ‘significant’ is probably understating it. Catastrophic in many cases,” he said.

Eric Labaupa (right) weighs in a bag of walleye in a local fishing tournament. Courtesy / Eric Labaupa.

Labaupa says the new regulations prevent anglers from keeping trophy-sized fish in their livewell to be weighed in at the tournament, and then released again. He says the new rule creates a significant hurdle for tournament organizers.

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“With the new regulations of not being able to bring in big fish to weigh, catch-photo-release is the next option. It’s either that or not having the event,” Labaupa said.

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“Catch-photo-release has lots of pros to it. It’s taking a photo of the fish, measuring it, taking a photo of that as well, releasing the fish on the spot, and then submitting that photo and measurement for judgment after, and that’s how you determine who wins a competitive event. It sounds all good and great, when it works.”

Labaupa says not being able to catch and weigh in trophy-sized fish is both causing complications for tournament organizers and making some anglers less interested.

“There is some of it that isn’t feasible. It just isn’t feasible, and generally it’s not as attractive to anglers, so then the scene just fizzles out organically on its own because of the new regulations,” he said.

“Already other anglers are going to Saskatchewan, they’re going to Ontario and taking their dollars there. As far as other anglers coming to Manitoba for events, it’s already taken a hit.”

Labaupa says a bass fishing tournament planned for Falcon Lake, Man., this weekend has already seen fewer anglers from Ontario signing up.

“So that’s 15 to 20 boats (from Ontario) that are not buying Manitoba licences, that aren’t buying gas and food in Falcon Lake and West Hawk. Right off the bat. It sounds small, but that adds up. And you take a whole season worth of events and it’ll take a hit on the tournament scene, for sure,” he said, adding there are economic implications for smaller communities in Manitoba.

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“Killing that (tournament) scene, which it’s headed down that path of the scene just fizzling out in Manitoba, is a huge hit to the economy,” he said. “Talk to towns like Pine Falls, Lac du Bonnet, Falcon Lake, Russell, all kinds of towns every year, they have big and small (tournaments).

“With these events going by the wayside, it is a big hit, it is a big hit for sure. It’s not as easy as just flipping a switch and saying do this new format and you’ll be good to go, it’s not as easy as that. There’s a learning curve.”

Randy Lewis, the president of the Central Walleye Trail, said he’s heard concerns from both tournament organizers and individual anglers.

“Given that the (catch-photo-release) technology is fairly young and new, from that aspect a lot of the tournament organizers are a little bit apprehensive to go that route at least for this first year,” Lewis said, adding some tournaments are using that format while other are just focusing on weighing in smaller fish.

“That’s what the goal always has been in the past, is to catch these trophy fish and bring them to the scales. Given now that that’s not an option and if they’re going to include trophy fish, it’s going to be a catch-photo-release using a virtual platform, there are a lot of anglers that are a little hesitant to go that route.”

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The Central Walleye Trail is a non-profit organization that awards anglers based on a point system through multiple tournaments. After a survey indicated waning interest, the CWT decided to put a pause on the 2023 season and then reassess for the 2024 season.

“We found that interest was waning a little bit,” Lewis said, adding increased cost of gas, travel, and accommodations are likely playing a role in fewer anglers participating in multiple tournaments.

“The change in the regulations and the ability to bring those big fish to the scales certainly has turned off a number of anglers,” Lewis added. “So it’s going to be an interesting year, 2023, to see how tournament angling makes out in Manitoba.”

In an emailed statement to Global News, a provincial spokesperson said the new regulations increase the sustainability of walleye fisheries by protecting larger fish that are an important spawning stock for the species. It said while anglers can no longer weigh in these fish traditionally, they can still be entered in the new catch-photo-release tournament format.

“The new angling regulations provide an opportunity for CFEs (competitive fishing events) to showcase Manitoba’s exceptional fisheries, by allowing a greater size range of fish to be entered into events through the use of Catch-Photo/Video-Release,” the statement said.

“In addition, by using new and innovative technologies, CFEs can diversify and promote new events that support Manitoba’s economy and local tourism. The department is working with CFE organizers and providing support to help the industry transition to using catch-photo-release.”

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Labaupa agrees the new regulations are beneficial to conservation of the species, but he’s hoping the province can meet them halfway.

“We’ve thrown our ideas out there, and we have solutions in place if we want. And the ask if just a special permit, perhaps, and exemption, if you will, to these,” he said.

“And we’ll use that time to have conservation officers, university students, any biologist from the department themselves to come down and let’s collect data (on) mortality numbers, fish release success stories from our own backyard, and not depending on studies from Alabama and Michigan to form policies about competitive events in Manitoba.”

Click to play video: 'New fishing regulations in Manitoba'
New fishing regulations in Manitoba

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