Long term monitoring is critical to determine if strategies and management actions are effective and management objectives are achieved. There are a number of tools that can be utilized to assess the state of the fishery. Each includes inherent biases in terms of the target species, timing, size of fish sampled, etc. Unfortunately, no single tool can effectively assess the entire fishery.

Monitoring lakes within FMZ 18 is jointly conducted by the MNRF Provincial Services Division in Southern Region and work centres (Peterborough, Bancroft and Kemptville). Partner agencies such as conservation authorities focus their monitoring activities primarily on small streams. Additional data are collected by private consultants and organizations such as the OFAH, and universities. A federal survey of recreational fishing in Canada, that includes Ontario, has been conducted on a five-year interval beginning in 1975. The remainder of this section outlines the monitoring and assessment activities of MNRF and provides a brief description of the federal recreational fisheries survey. The application of district monitoring programs will be reviewed on an annual basis.

Fisheries monitoring and assessment tools

Gill netting surveys

Gill netting surveys are passive netting programs that can target fish across a wide range of size categories. Selection of lakes or rivers to be surveyed and location of sites within lakes can be done randomly or strategically. Depending on the fish species targeted, the duration of the net sets and the timing of the survey, gill netting surveys can result in high mortality rates of fish captured. Lethal sampling provides important, additional information about the fish populations including sex, maturity, condition, more accurate age estimates, and contaminant loading, in addition to the parameters collected in a live-release survey. The size of mesh in the gill net dictates the size range and species of fish sampled. In Ontario, FWIN is a provincial standard gill netting program targeting walleye, as well as northern pike and yellow perch. SPIN and BTIN are utilized to sample coldwater fish communities in lakes.

MNRF has also recently developed a standard gill-netting survey protocol (Riverine Index Netting; RIN) for the assessment of non-wadeable, medium- to large-sized rivers. RIN is intended to assess fishes in slow-moving portions of rivers.

Broad-scale Monitoring Program

The BsM program was developed to address the monitoring component of the Ecological Framework for Fisheries Management (Lester et al., 2003) and has become the provincial standard for sampling inland lakes in Ontario. The BsM uses a combination of two types of gillnets:

  • “large mesh” gillnet that target fish larger than 20 cm. in length, the size range of interest to anglers
  • “small mesh” gillnet that target smaller fish

The large mesh gillnet was proposed by the American Fisheries Society as a North American standard for sampling angler harvested freshwater species. The small mesh gillnet is a new standard, developed in Ontario. Jointly, the large and small mesh gillnets span a mesh size range that is similar to a standard that has been adopted in Europe.

This program was first implemented across Ontario, in 2008. Within FMZ 18, the program focuses on both walleye and lake trout lakes. These include randomly selected “Trend” lakes, to be sampled on a regular basis (currently targeted every five years), which will provide data to assess both the current “State of the Resource” as well as changes in the fishery over time. The current list of “Trend” lakes in FMZ 18 is provided in Table 14. In addition, a few lakes with FMZ 18 are randomly selected as “Status” lakes and are assessed to contribute to the current “State of the Resource”. These lakes are selected at random in each sampling cycle.

The BsM program also samples invasive species (plankton hauls), monitors water quality and collects bathymetry data, if required.

Table 14: List of FMZ 18 Trend lakes (2nd Cycle – 2013) that are included in the BsM program.

Adapted from tabular format:

  • Big Clear Lake
  • Big Gull Lake
  • Big Rideau Lake
  • Birch Lake
  • Bobs Lake
  • Brule Lake
  • Buckshot Lake
  • Bull Lake
  • Burridge Lake
  • Charleston Lake
  • Christie Lake
  • Crotch Lake
  • Crystal Lake
  • Dalhousie Lake
  • Eagle Lake
  • Elbow Lake
  • Effingham Lake
  • Govan Lake
  • Kashwakamak Lake
  • Leggat Lake
  • Mazinaw Lake
  • Mississippi Lake
  • Moira Lake
  • Palmerston Lake
  • Sharbot Lake
  • Shawenegog Lake
  • Sheffield Long Lake
  • Skootamatta Lake
  • Weslemkoon Lake
  • White Lake

Trap netting surveys

A trap netting survey is a passive netting technique that targets fish in the nearshore areas of lakes or large rivers. Trap nets can be particularly effective for targeting adult centrarchids (bass and sunfish) and the vast majority of fish captured are easily live- released. MNRF utilizes two standard index trap netting surveys: ESTN which is designed as a live-release walleye survey and NSCIN which targets the littoral zone fish community in late summer. Trap net surveys provide information on fish populations including relative abundance, size distribution, age distribution and growth rates. These surveys are biased by the fact that the catch of small-bodied fishes is limited by gear selection (e.g. yellow perch, minnows, young-of-year sport fish) and they do not sample fish outside of near-shore areas. Trap nets are relatively ineffective in areas with high flows, or narrow and/or steep littoral zones.

Electrofishing surveys & OSAP

Electrofishing surveys are commonly used to collect, sample and live release fish. This provides information on relative fish abundance and species composition. Captured fish can also be sampled for biological attributes such as length, weight and age. Electrofishing involves stunning fish by passing an electric current through the water. Stunned fish are then captured with a dip net. Electrofishing surveys can be conducted in wadeable waters using backpack, punt or shore-based units and in larger waterbodies using electrofishing boats. The OSAP includes standard protocols for sampling wadeable streams using backpack units. MNRF has mandatory training requirements for staff involved in electrofishing projects. When staff are properly trained, electrofishing is safe and effective on a wide range of fish species and sizes.

Cleithrum Project

In 1979, the MNRF, through Dr. John Casselman, and the Royal Ontario Museum, through Dr. Ed Crossman, initiated the Cleithrum Project as a joint study to collect, archive and disseminate biological data on trophy muskellunge. The cleithrum bone provides accurate information on both the age and growth of a fish, but cannot be obtained without lethal sampling. A guiding principle of the project is fish should not be killed for the data but every fish killed should be used to provide the data. Data collected via the Cleithrum Project are critical for determining Muskellunge growth patterns and determining appropriate regulations.

Fish observations

In some instances, observational data can be collected to provide information on the fishery. This data can be used to address specific management questions. One example utilized within FMZ 18 is walleye spawning observation (aka “Walleye Watch”) data that is collected across a number of locations. This data can be used to determine the timing of spawning and to identify spawning locations. The monitoring program is being utilized to collect site-specific data to aid in identifying areas for habitat rehabilitation/creation and best management practices for water levels and flows.

Angler creel

The MNRF conducts angler creel surveys to collect data on angler harvest, effort and catch characteristics. These surveys estimate angler effort, catch, harvest and yield, as well as target species specific effort, catch rate, harvest rate, and size and age distribution of the harvest. Creel surveys describe the use of the resource, but due to multiple inherent biases in the sampling technique used (i.e. various angler experience levels, variety of specific techniques used, varying degrees of knowledge of the waterbody, use of electronics, etc.), they provide less accurate estimates of population abundance, relative to standardized index netting protocols.

In addition to the on-the-water or winter creel surveys, MNRF has utilized aerial surveys to assess angler effort across FMZs as a component of the BsM program. These surveys are utilized to collect information on relative fishing effort across a number of lakes but are limited in terms of providing species-specific information.

Angler diary programs

Angler diary programs allow individual anglers to track their fishing efforts and success over a specified time period. These surveys provide a similar suite of data to creel surveys. One limitation of angler diary programs is that the quality of the data collected is dependent on the individual angler and subject to a number of potential biases. Within Ontario, members of Muskies Canada Inc. have maintained angler diaries associated with their fishing activities. Given the low catch rates of muskellunge in most index netting surveys, this information provides a means of tracking trends in the Muskellunge fishery over time.

Survey of recreational fishing in Canada

The Survey of Recreational Fishing in Canada is a federal-provincial angler mail survey which has been conducted every 5 years since 1975. The survey is a stratified random sample of licensed anglers that collects data about fishing effort, catch and harvest, as well as angler demographics, expenditures, to assess the economic and social importance or recreational fishing in Canada. The Ontario component of this survey requests information about the waterbodies fished, the number of fish caught and kept by species, as well as other socio-economic information pertaining to their fishing activities. This question allows for the generation of spatially explicit estimates of fishing effort, catch and harvest.

Fisheries monitoring and assessment

The provincial BsM program is the primary survey method used to collect fisheries data in Ontario. The BsM program targets lake trout, walleye and brook trout fisheries, and provides information about fish abundance, population structure, growth, maturity and fishing effort. The BsM program will report on the trends and status of target fisheries at the FMZ scale. Information needs and gaps not addressed by the BsM program will be addressed through the following strategies:


  • Develop a program to monitor fishing effort on other fisheries (e.g. PGT fisheries, smaller sized lakes, rivers and streams), that will assess:
    • angler effort
    • target species
    • angler harvest
    • harvest characteristics (e.g. size and age distributions)
    • catch of non-target species
    • angler origin
    • economic benefits
  • Explore opportunities to develop a program to collect both river and stream fisheries data in FMZ 18.
  • Extend angler diary programs to potentially include angler organizations or tourist operators. Priority should be placed on implementing a program that will assess angler use characteristics associated with coldwater fisheries, which are currently lacking.
  • Promote the following FMZ 18 fisheries management information and knowledge gaps, and encourage associated research with MNRF researchers and academia:
    • determine impacts of current water level management with emphasis on Walleye recruitment and population dynamics
    • determine how fish communities will respond to the invasion of round gobies in small inland waterbodies
    • assess the effects of climate change on FMZ 18 Fish communities