Fixing new bait rules

by Ray Blades | March 16, 2023
bait trap

In case you haven’t heard, the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry implemented a new Bait Management Strategy (BMS) at the start of the year. The regulations divide the province into four Bait Management Zones (BMZs) and restrict how anglers and commercial operators can use, transport, and harvest live or dead bait — meaning baitfish and leeches, but not crayfish, frogs, or worms.

The government’s intent is to protect the health of aquatic ecosystems, conserve resources, enhance recreational benefits, and create policies that are effective and simple to implement.

Sounds good, right?

Well, yes, and not so fast.

What’s confusing to me and many others is the “effective and simple” part. Adding BMZs as a new layer to the province’s current map of Fisheries Management Zones (FMZs) doesn’t seem simple. I talk to many casual anglers and newcomers, and some aren’t even aware what FMZ they are in.

Should the lowest common denominator of the unaware angler be how we set our regs? No, but adding a new layer is not a simple solution.

Bait feedback

We’ve heard the most feedback from our readers regarding BMZ boundary issues. The fact that anglers are now only able to harvest baitfish in the BMZ of their primary residence is problematic for many. Anglers don’t necessarily live in the same BMZ that they fish. Meaning if your cottage or hunt camp is in a different BMZ than your home BMZ, you can’t catch your own bait (it must be purchased), even if you are only fishing the lake your cottage is on. This is also an issue for anglers and bait shops who reside or are located on or near BMZ borders. There are other issues too.

What I do like about the new strategy is the focus to conserve native populations of brook trout, with bait prohibitions on certain native lakes. But let’s get a provincial management plan for brook trout first.

The better compliance framework for commercial harvest is a welcome win too, which includes standardized training, and gear.

My takeaway is that aspects included in the BMS are trending in the right direction, but we haven’t seen full implementation. There’s more that needs to be done to protect the health of our fisheries, make it realistic to implement, and practical for anglers — that starts with education and simplification, but also enhancing enforcement of long-standing bait regs we already had in the province.

Ray headshot

Originally Published in the 2022 Fishing Annual.

Ray Blades is the Editor of Ontario OUT of DOORS and a lover of wild places and the life-giving magic of hot black coffee. Reach Ray at:; Twitter: @rayOODMAG; Instagram: @ray.blades

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