Muskellunge Management: Fifty Years of Cooperation Among Anglers, Scientists, and Fisheries Biologists
Managing Muskellunge in Ontario [Extended Abstract]
Ontario has a global responsibility for the management and sustainability of Muskellunge Esox masquinongy populations and supports numerous destination fisheries that provide high-quality angling opportunities and associated benefits for the people of Ontario. There are more than 400 bodies of water in Ontario that support native Muskellunge populations through natural reproduction. Kerr (2011) concluded that this represents greater than 25% of known Muskellunge populations in North America and greater than one-third of native and naturally reproducing populations. Since 2001, Ontario Muskellunge fisheries have been managed towards one of three objectives: (1) high-density populations, (2) enhanced size fisheries, and (3) record-class fisheries.
The Cleithrum Project provides the science-based foundation for the management of Ontario’s Muskellunge populations (Casselman et al. 1999). Ontario Muskellunge populations show a range in their growth potential (Casselman et al. 1999), influenced by a combination of habitat, forage base, genetics, and climate. Based on this growth potential, a series of five minimum size limits (MSLs) were implemented in Ontario in 2001 corresponding to one of the three stated objectives (Table 1). Minimum reproductive size (91 cm) is used as a minimum provincial standard to manage populations where growth data are absent, which affords a minimum of two reproductive opportunities before fish are vulnerable to harvest. The remaining populations are managed based on the minimum ultimate size of female Muskellunge (Casselman 2007) and one of four remaining standard MSLs (OMNRF et al. 1999).
Angling seasons are based on the timing of spawning, with two standard opening dates, the first Saturday in June in southern fisheries management zones (FMZs) and the deferred 2 weeks in more northern FMZs. Muskellunge are not present in 4 of 20 FMZs in Ontario. Angler creel limits are a one fish daily catch and possession limit for sport license holders, and a zero possession limit for conservation license holders. Lac Seul is the only Ontario fishery managed as a catch-and-release fishery for both license types.