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The baitfish primer

A guide to identifying and protecting Ontario's baitfishes

by Becky Cudmore and Nicolas E. Mandrak

The baitfish primer

The baitfish primer (PDF, 14.6 MB)

Table of Contents


Habitat illustration.

Habitat illustration.

Recreational angling is a popular pastime in Ontario - well over one million residents and visitors enjoy angling every year. Angling supports many aspects of the Ontario economy, including the baitfish industry. Many anglers use live bait, including baitfishes. Few anglers probably realize that there are over 40 species of legal baitfishes in Ontario. Too many, all small fishes look alike; however, upon closer inspection, most baitfish species can be distinguished from one another with relative ease. If you can tell a House Sparrow apart from a Black-Capped Chickadee, then (with practice) you will soon be able to distinguish a Creek Chub from a Longnose Dace!

The ability to distinguish among small fish species is important, as the use of many species for bait is illegal. It is discouraged, and often illegal, to use sport fishes, introduced (non-native) fishes, or fish species that are so rare that their use may lead to further declines and possible extinction. Even within fish families generally considered legal baitfishes, there are individual fish species that cannot be used.

Individual fish species may become illegal for baitfish use for various reasons:

Additionally, there are species that require caution for use as baitfishes, as they are species that, although legal, can be easily confused with illegal species.

Baitfishes may be collected by individuals possessing a resident fishing licence, or by licensed commercial baitfish harvesters. Areas supporting extirpated, endangered or threatened species at risk fishes listed on schedule 1 of SARA or identified on national aquatic species at risk maps should be avoided. If any species at risk are encountered during baitfish collection they should immediately be released alive in the location they were found. The commercial baitfish industry in Ontario is comprised of over 1,500 licensed harvesters and dealers. The bait resource and industry is managed by the province through licensing, legal species lists, log books, annual reporting and best management practices. In addition, harvesting takes place in prescribed geographic areas and is based on principles intended to protect baitfishes and their habitat into the future.

It is imperative that all commercial and recreational baitfish harvesters are aware of, and adhere to, all federal and provincial laws and regulations pertaining to this activity. In addition, all baitfish users should understand the potential impacts of the careless collection, use, and disposal of baitfishes to minimize or eliminate such impacts.

By the end of this Primer, you will:

  • understand the federal and Ontario legislation and regulations pertinent to the use of baitfishes
  • be able to identify small fish species
  • be able to distinguish between legal and illegal baitfishes
  • recognize the importance of baitfish habitat
  • understand the potential impacts of improper baitfish use; and,
  • understand how to minimize negative impacts to our aquatic ecosystems
Fish trap illustration.

Fish trap illustration.

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