Overview

The responsible harvest and use of bait are important aspects of fishing in Ontario. However, bait can pose a significant ecological risk to Ontario's fisheries and the resource-based businesses and industries they support by spreading invasive species and fish diseases such as viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS).

Since 2014, we have taken steps to reduce the risks associated with the spread of invasive species and fish diseases in Ontario’s waterbodies. We have conducted many studies and consultations and found that one tactic to mitigate these concerns is to limit the movement and use of baitfish and leeches in Ontario.

News and updates

After extensive consultation, we released Ontario’s Sustainable Bait Management Strategy in July 2020, which describes our new approach to managing baitfish and leeches that will reduce the ecological risks associated with the use and movement of bait in Ontario.

New rules coming into effect on January 1, 2022:

  • establishing four Bait Management Zones (BMZs) to limit the movement of baitfish and leeches in Ontario
  • restricting the transportation of baitfish or leeches, whether live or dead, into or out of a BMZ with some limited exceptions
  • anglers fishing outside their home BMZ must purchase baitfish and leeches locally, retain a receipt and use or dispose of their bait within two weeks from when they were purchased
  • harvesting of baitfish and leeches by anglers may only occur in their home BMZ

These and other changes are described in more detail below. Check back here in the future for other changes resulting from Ontario’s Sustainable Bait Management Strategy.

Bait Management Zones (BMZs)

Ontario is implementing four Bait Management Zones (BMZs) to restrict the movement of commercially harvested, personally harvested, or purchased baitfish and leeches.

With limited exceptions, baitfish or leeches, whether live or dead, must not be transported into or out of a BMZ. For the most part, BMZ boundaries follow Fisheries Management Zone (FMZs) boundaries that are detailed on each FMZ webpage.

Bait Management Zones in Ontario

Ontario’s four BMZs include:

  • Southern BMZ: FMZ 16, 17, 18 and the part of 20 that is within Prince Edward County
  • Central BMZ: FMZ 15
  • Northeastern BMZ: FMZ 3, 8, 10, and 11 except the part of FMZ 10 that is within Cockburn Island, Michipicoten Island, St. Joseph Island, and Manitoulin Island. Manitoulin Island is defined as all land south of the causeway connecting Great LaCloche Island and Whitefish River First Nation known as Swift Current Bridge
  • Northwestern BMZ: FMZ 2 south of the 11th baseline at latitude 51°48’11”N. and east of longitude 89°00’00”W., and FMZ 4, 5, 6, and 7 except the part of FMZ 6 that consists of St. Ignace Island and Simpson Island

For the purposes of BMZs, all other waterbodies in Ontario are considered either the Great Lakes and Ottawa River or part of FMZs 1, 2, or 3 where bait restrictions already exist. For greater clarity the Great Lakes and Ottawa River are defined as:

  • Great Lakes:
    • FMZs 9, 13, 14, 19, and 20, except for the part of 20 that is within Prince Edward County
    • the portions of FMZ 6 consisting of St. Ignace Island and Simpson Island The portions of FMZ 10 consisting of Cockburn Island, Michipicoten Island, St. Joseph Island, and Manitoulin Island
    • Manitoulin Island is defined as all land south of the causeway connecting Great LaCloche Island and Whitefish River First Nation known as Swift Current Bridge
  • Ottawa River:
    • All of FMZ 12

Movement of baitfish and leeches

Recreational anglers

Effective January 1, 2022, anglers fishing outside of their home BMZ are required to:

  • purchase baitfish and leeches from a commercial licence holder (such as a bait shop) in the BMZ where they are fishing
  • use or dispose of baitfish or leeches (dead or alive) within two weeks of purchasing them and retain a legible receipt that includes:
    • date of purchase
    • business name (if applicable)
    • commercial licence number
    • location of purchase
    • quantity of bait purchased

An angler’s home BMZ is the BMZ where their primary residence is located, which is defined as the place with which a person has the greatest connection in terms of present and anticipated future living arrangements, the activities of daily living, family connections, financial connections and social connections. For greater certainty a person only has one primary residence, no matter how many dwelling places the person may have, inside or outside Ontario.

Some exceptions apply for Great Lakes and Ottawa River, including:

  • anglers are permitted to move baitfish and leeches into an adjacent Great Lake or portion of the Ottawa River
  • anglers can only move baitfish and leeches into an adjacent BMZ from the Great Lakes or portion of the Ottawa River for the purposes of immediately disposing of them more than 30 metres from the water

Anglers are also permitted to transport dead lake herring (Cisco), white sucker, and longnose sucker into or out of a BMZ for the purposes of consumption.

Fishing with bait

Laws/rules

By law, you need a valid fishing licence (such as sport or conservation) to catch your own live:

  • baitfish
  • leeches
  • crayfish
  • northern leopard frogs

With a fishing licence, you cannot:

  • sell baitfish and leeches — unless you have a valid commercial bait licence
  • import live fish, crayfish, live leeches or salamanders
  • capture, import or use salamanders as bait

The Ontario fishing regulations control live bait to prevent the spread of:

Bait with fish eggs

  • You may strip fish roe (eggs) from your catch if:
    • you catch the fish legally
    • you do not discard or waste the fish after taking the roe
  • You may:
    • use fish roe anywhere organic bait is permitted
    • share fish roe with other anglers
    • not sell, trade or barter fish roe

Bait disposal rules

  • It is illegal to empty your bait bucket, drain the water or release live bait into a lake, river or other waters.
  • Instead, you must:
    • drain your bucket onshore (30 metres from the water)
    • freeze the excess minnows for another day

In some areas of Ontario and many individual waterbodies, you cannot use or possess any kind of live bait. You can find a complete set of provincial rules, including restrictions on fishing with live bait in the: Ontario Fishing Regulations Summary.

Catch/purchase limits

You can catch baitfish and leeches if you are fishing in your home BMZ or buy baitfish and leeches, up to the possession limit.

You can catch crayfish or frogs but you cannot buy them.

You cannot have in your possession more than:

  • 120 baitfish
  • 120 leeches
  • 36 crayfish
  • 12 northern leopard frogs

Baitfish you can catch

Know your baitfish — it is your responsibility to use the right kind.

Currently in Ontario, you can only catch 48 species of baitfish, including some species from the following groups:

What kinds of baitfish can I use as live bait?

See 48 species of baitfish.

How to catch baitfish

Only resident anglers can capture baitfish and leeches within their home BMZ. You can use a dip net or baitfish trap to catch baitfish anywhere in Ontario except in Algonquin Park.

Dip net

You can only use one dip net to catch baitfish. Your dip net:

  • may be up to 183 centimetres (6 feet) on each side, if square
  • may be up to 183 centimetres (6 feet) across, if circular
  • must be used during daylight hours only (after sunrise and before sunset)
Baitfish trap

You can only use one baitfish trap to catch baitfish. Anglers are only permitted to personally harvest baitfish in the BMZ where their primary residence is located. Your baitfish trap:

  • may be up to 51 centimetres (20 inches) long
  • may be up to 31 centimetres (12.2 inches) wide
  • must be clearly marked with the licence holder’s name and address

Non-residents cannot trap baitfish other than suckers or lake herring.

How to catch leeches

You can only use one leech trap to catch leeches. Anglers are only permitted to personally harvest baitfish in the BMZ where their primary residence is located. Your trap:

  • may be up to 45 centimetres (17.7 inches) in any dimension
  • must be clearly marked with the licence holder’s name

Leeches may only be personally harvested within an angler’s home BMZ.

How to catch crayfish

You can catch crayfish using the same methods that are used for catching baitfish. You must:

  • use crayfish where you caught them
  • not transport them over land

How to catch northern leopard frogs

The only frog species you can capture for bait is the northern leopard frog. There are no specific rules on how to capture them for bait.

Fish with a commercial bait licence

Laws/rules

By law, you need a commercial bait licence:

  • to deal in bait (buy or sell)
  • harvest bait

You can only buy, sell or harvest:

Licence costs

To sell bait

  • to sell bait: $148.60
  • for a tourist dealer: $29.72

To harvest bait

  • harvester/dealer: $297.20
  • tourist bait harvester/dealer: $29.72
  • add a designate: no cost

How to sell commercial bait

To get a new licence to sell bait:

Step 1: download and complete application to deal commercial bait.

Step 2: submit the form to your local Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry (NDMNRF) district office.

Step 3: if your application is approved, you will be notified by mail or email and instructed to submit payment for your licence.

Step 4: make an appointment with your local NDMNRF district office to discuss, prepare and submit a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan that outlines the steps you will take to prevent the spread of:

  • fish-borne diseases like viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS)
  • invasive and unwanted species

Step 5: NDMNRF will work with the applicant to determine licence conditions and issue the licence.

How to harvest bait

To get a new licence to harvest bait:

Step 1: contact your local Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry district office to check if any bait harvest areas (BHAs) are available in the area of interest.

Step 2: if a bait harvest area is available, download and complete application to harvest commercial bait.

Step 3: to indicate the bait harvest area you want to harvest, download and complete the application form.

Step 4 (if applicable): if a designate will help with harvesting operations (i.e. harvest on your behalf), include and complete an application form to add a designate.

Step 5: submit application form(s) to your local NDMNRF district office.

Step 6: if your application is approved, you will be notified by mail or email and instructed to submit payment for your licence.

Step 7: take a two-hour online HACCP training course at your local NDMNRF office.

Step 8: make an appointment with your local NDMNRF district office to discuss, prepare and submit a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan that outlines the steps you will take to prevent the spread of:

  • fish-borne diseases like viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS)
  • invasive and unwanted species

Step 9: NDMNRF will work with the applicant to determine licence conditions and issue the licence.

How to add or remove designate

A designate must be 16 years or older to harvest bait on the licence holder’s behalf.

To add or remove a designate, a licenced harvester needs to:

Step 1: download and complete one of the forms to:

Step 2: all licensees must sign the form.

Step 3: submit form to your local NDMNRF district office.

How to transfer a licence

To transfer a licence or bait harvesting areas, a licenced harvester needs to:

Step 1: download and complete the application form to transfer a licence.

Step 2: all licensees must sign the form.

Step 3: submit form to your local NDMNRF district office.

Report baitfish violations

To report illegal harvesting, buying, selling or possession of baitfish or the movement of live fish, call 1-877-TIPSMNR (8477667) toll-free anytime or contact your ministry office during regular business hours. You can also call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

Updated: October 25, 2021
Published: October 22, 2021