Aircraft join hunt for illegal gill-netters

Tuesday, July 15, 2014   by: Jeff Turl

Illegal gill-netters on Lake Nipissing will now have to watch the skies as well as their nets.

A local volunteer group, BAYSAR, (North Bay Search and Rescue) helps authorities in search and rescue missions using their own aircraft.

Now, those aircraft will be another set of eyes as the community comes together to try and stop illegal gill-netting.

In a news release from the North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce, President Derek Shogren said, “I received a message from Stan French, President of BAYSAR this weekend offering their assistance to search the lake for unmarked nets from their planes”.

“I was pleased to see Mr. French and his team, step up with their assistance, even if it is not their traditional role of search and rescue, but community people that are concerned for the lake.”

French is enthusiastic about the challenge.

“We have one float plane that we’ll be using over Lake Nipissing,” French told BayToday,  “so we can fly low over the water, about 500 feet or so.”

French says the group has already flown one mission.

“Last evening (Monday) we did an hour-long search but didn’t find any nets.”

There are 15 members of BAYSAR.

Searchers can’t tell the difference between legal and illegal nets from the air.

“If we spot floats attached to nets, we notify the folks responsible (MNR) to take action. We’re not enforcement, just investigation.”

French won’t say when or how often the searches will take place, so as not to tip off the fishermen.

“It will be a random schedule and that will hopefully be a deterrence factor.”

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry this week asked for the public’s help in finding illegal nets, noting that five have been recovered from Nipissing in the past six weeks.

“The public deserves answers of how many other nets, how many fish, and how do we enforce the rules on the Lake,” continues the Chamber release.

“Any other information provided to the MNR that will assist in stopping these illegal nets, would certainly be a positive step for the community to be engaged and watching out for the best interests of our lakes.”

It appears public concern with overfishing the lake has reached a critical mass.

In addition to the MNRF asking for public help, as reported yesterday by BayToday, First Nations member Bob Goulais is offering a $1,000 reward.

Shogren says the Chamber is speaking with numerous stakeholders in regards to Lake Nipissing.

“The nets found abandoned lately has been a hot topic for our area tourism and hospitality stakeholders, as well as the community at large that enjoys the Lake.”

The Chamber says it is pleased to see the MNRF step-up and ask for assistance last week.

“With five abandoned nets found in the past month; there are probably more.  They are not nets registered with our colleagues with Nipissing First Nations (NFN).  We deem these as illegal nets, due to the very fact that the fish are dead and rotting, as the responsible person(s) have not properly attended the nets.”

The MNRF encourages anyone who may have information to contact them toll free 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).