Baitfish pose a threat to wild fish

 

Certain recreational anglers attach small fish, often called minnows, to their hooks to attract the desired species. This type of lure is generally used, rightly or wrongly, to enhance the success of fishing. The use of baitfish in sportfishing is not risk-free for aquatic environments.

The Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP) must ensure that it rigorously regulates the use of baitfish to fully assume its role with respect to conservation and wildlife resource development.

How do the use of and trade in baitfish pose a threat?

One of the key challenges to maintaining the quality and sustainability of the sport and commercial fisheries in Québec concerns the introduction into water bodies and propagation of aquatic invasive species (AIS) and pathogenic organisms such as viruses, bacteria and parasites. The organisms are recognized for seriously damaging ecosystems and aquatic species, thereby disturbing the socioeconomic activities that depend on them. The invasive organisms are very difficult—indeed impossible—to eradicate once they have been introduced into a water body.

The use of live baitfish is one of the most worrisome vectors for the propagation of AIS and disease. Dead baitfish can also carry AIS and viable pathogens, even if the fish is frozen. Undesirable organisms that are invisible to the eye can also be present in the water used to transport baitfish.

The use of baitfish also engenders in certain species such as yellow walleye a higher mortality rate when fish are returned to the water compared with the use of artificial lures. This higher mortality reduces the effectiveness of different management procedures.

Lastly, the commercial exploitation of baitfish can contribute to the introduction or propagation of AIS through contaminated fishing equipment.

Photo : Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs

New invasive species are set to enter Québec

The MFFP is deeply concerned by the recent arrival of new aquatic invasive species such as spiny water flea (in French only), fishhook water flea (in French only), Asian flatworm, VHS (in French only), and so on in Québec waters or at the province’s borders. Moreover, an Asian carp (grass carp) was captured in the St. Lawrence River in the spring of 2016. Recent environmental DNA analyses conducted on water samples from the St. Lawrence River and certain of its tributaries reveal the presence of grass carp DNA in Québec waters, which confirms that the specimen captured was not isolated.

The new invasive species are all likely to be propagated unintentionally through the trade in and use of baitfish. Bearing in mind the significant impact that the species have on the environments that they colonize, the MFFP has reviewed the regulatory framework governing the use of baitfish in Québec to curb the risk of propagation.

NEW REGULATION RESPECTING BAITFISH

The new regulation, which comes into force on April 1, 2017, seeks to reduce the entire array of risks linked to the use of baitfish. 

From now on:

  • the use of live baitfish is prohibited throughout Québec;
  • the use of dead baitfish during the summer is prohibited throughout Québec;
  • the use of dead baitfish during the winter continues to be permitted in certain fishing zones in Québec where the practice was already authorized (see the map).

To obtain complete information on the rules applicable to baitfish, please visit:

Other initiatives under way

The use of and trade in baitfish are not the only propagation vectors of AIS. However, the MFFP must act with respect to the main vectors that fall under its jurisdiction, of which the trade in and use of baitfish are the most worrisome. At the same time, the MFFP is pursuing its efforts to heighten awareness, for example cleaning recreational boats (in French only), and the development of partnerships and the implementation of concerted initiatives with other government interveners. What is more, the MFFP will work with neighbouring provinces and states to harmonize regulations respecting the use of baitfish in waters under shared jurisdiction.