Ontario Fish and Wildlife Program Audit: Enforcement

December 11, 2007

As you may recall the issue of illegal night fishing created a storm in Westport this summer after The Toronto Star reported as a hate crime a confrontation between local residents and a group of Asian fishermen from Toronto.

Earlier in the summer Westport Councillor Jackie Brady told me that repeated calls to the Ministry of Natural Resources to complain about vanloads of men fishing at night in the Westport Fish Sanctuary met with no success as the MNR claimed not to have the budget to respond to such calls.

It turns out her contact at the Ministry was right. This week the Ontario Auditor General reported the following on p. 153:

The majority of conservation officers work eight-hour shifts that normally conclude before six in the evening, and there are generally few overnight shifts. According to ministry staff, most public complaints during the night do not need immediate attention, even though almost 20% of the calls to the Ministry’s TIPS reporting hotline occur during overnight hours. We were informed that enforcement staff cannot respond to complaints in off hours without supervisory approval because the costs of overtime must be balanced with the severity of the complaint and concerns about staff safety. We were also informed that extensive off-hours work could diminish the staff’s ability to carry out regular day patrols. However, failure to respond to complaints on a timely basis may increase the risk of illegal activity going undetected.

On p. 151 under Enforcement Activity the article makes the following points:

The Minstry allocates operational support funding to the Enforcement Branch that averages approximately $9,000 per conservation officer to carry out field-enforcement activities. From our review of the enforcement activities in the districts that we visited, and discussions with enforcement supervisors and officers, we noted the following:

– For the four units reviewed, the funds budgeted were insufficient to carry out the planned enforcement activities…. As a result, conservation officer patrol hours had been reduced from planned levels by between 15% and 60%…. If there was a shortfall in funding, district offices were not allowed to reallocate funds from other activities to the enforcement units, as was the case in prior years.

-For the enforcement units reviewed, conservation officers were unable to carry out additional harvest monitoring because of resource constraints. In this regard they were restricted to spending between $75 and $125 a week for operating costs such as meals, gas, vehicle repairs and maintenance, and travel. At this level of funding, we noted that conservation officers carried out regular patrols an average of one or two days a week during the 2006/7 fiscal year, compared to an average three or four days a week the previous fiscal year. In the case of one unit, we noted that regular patrols were suspended by mid-November 2006 for lack of funds, even though the deer hunting season still had another 10 days to run.

If the Government of Ontario won’t provide the resources to protect our fishing, and even handcuffs its enforcement personnel with draconian rules, then whose job is it to keep order?

The Toronto Star picked up on the Auditor-General’s comment that new drivers with a driver’s education certificate were 62% more likely to be involved in a collision than those without the certificate, but sadly they ignored Fish and Wildlife issues.

http://www.auditor.on.ca/en/reports_en/en07/306en07.pdf

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