Letter to The Toronto Star: Whose job is it to protect the fish?

December 14, 2007

Mr. Urquhart, Ms. Doolittle, Mr. Rush:

I grew up in Westport, a small tourist community just north of Kingston, Ontario. Throughout my childhood my favourite pastime was fishing off the many docks and bridges around the village. The Department of Lands and Forests had its headquarters in Westport as well, and everyone knew the rules: don’t keep undersized bass, clean and eat what you catch, and most of all, NEVER EVEN THINK of dropping a line into the Fish Sanctuary. The Pond, as the sanctuary is known locally, houses the breeding stock for the local fish hatchery run by the Ministry of Natural Resources.

Imagine my amazement when at a grade-eight reunion this summer a classmate, now a member of the Westport Town Council, told me how town residents have been unable to do anything about van-loads of men coming into town after dark and fishing all night in the sanctuary, keeping everything they catch. Jackie Brady told me that repeated calls to the Ministry of Natural Resources did not produce any enforcement activity because, in her words, “They couldn’t afford the overtime.”

Then an incident involving locals and Asian fishermen from Toronto hit the front page of The Star last summer and was reported as a hate crime. I sent in a correction at that time, hoping that further investigation would produce a more balanced look at the situation, but no one responded.
This week in my blog I included a couple of excerpts from the annual report of the Auditor-General of Ontario. The report states unequivocally on p. 153 that conservation officers are unable to work nights unless authorized to do so by their superiors (See two blog entries down from this one). This is consistent with what Jackie told me. One issue, then, is the absence of conservation officers at the time that the fishermen seem to prefer to participate in their sport.

Another issue may well have to do with language. The earlier report’s quotations were translated from Mandarin, according to the article. No mention was made of the fishermen’s understanding of the regulations, or even if they held valid fishing licenses. Are Westport residents to be condemned as racist if night-time visitors ignore the rules, trespass and litter, and systematically plunder the lifeblood of the community? Ignorance of the language and the laws is no justification for poaching, and yet Toronto journalists don’t seem to look much further than that dreadful phrase involving wet Japanese to find a headline.

I’ll close with a little personal anecdote. On an October Sunday this year I ran around Indian Lake a bit in my boat to see if I could find a splake. Nothing was happening so I docked at the upper side of Chaffey’s Lock and walked over the embankment to an area below the mill where the current runs out into Opinicon Lake. An Asian man who was fishing off the point on the other side of the canal took one look at me and quickly left the area. I noticed that his line held a distinctive orange bobber. The fish weren’t biting below the lock and I soon returned to my boat.

Five days later I walked down the point to fish from shore. I caught a nice splake and carried it up the bank to a flat spot. At that point I noticed a very expensive G. Loomis spinning rod, neatly disassembled and held together with elastic bands, lying in a juniper bush. The distinctive orange bobber was still on the line. I picked up the rod and took it home for safekeeping.

Before this gets reported as a racist attack I’d better specify that the young Asian man in question was tall and very fit. I’m fiftyish and short, gray-haired. My friends suggested that the only thing frightening about me might have been my green rain suit and Tilley hat. The man might have mistaken me for a conservation officer and abandoned his gear.

G. Loomis spinning rods are valuable, but I’m a bait-casting fan and have no use for it. I’d be glad to return the rod to the man who abandoned it. All he has to do is show me his fishing license.

Ms. Doolittle’s article in today’s _Star_ is obviously the cause of this note. Once again it looks at the fishing issue from a racial perspective. I’d suggest from a lifetime of angling around Westport that there may well be a better-reasoned way to address the facts as you have them, starting with the shocking lack of resources provided to conservation officers to do their jobs. Please read the Auditor-General’s Report, Enforcement Activity, pp. 151-153.

Thank you for your time and attention,

Yours sincerely,

Rod Croskery

UPDATE: December 20, 2007

Check out Marco Smits’ series on this issue in The Review-Mirror at

http://www.review-mirror.com/

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