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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

Summary of legislation and regulations related to baitfishes

Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act

Capture of baitfishes

Anglers: Residents with a valid recreational fishing license issued under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (FWCA) may capture their own baitfishes for personal use using traps and dipnets following all conditions in Ontario’s Recreational Fishing Regulations Summary. The Ontario Fishery Regulations, 2007 (OFRs) allows them to set a legal minnow trap (no more than 51 cm × 31 cm; labelled with name and address of owner) or capture fishes with a dipnet (no more than 183 cm in diameter or along each side, and during daylight hours only). The capture and use of bait is not allowed in some waters; the latest version of the Ontario Recreational Fishing Regulations Summary should be consulted for Zone regulations and exceptions. Baitfishes may be caught for personal use only and anglers must have no more than 120 baitfishes in their possession at any time, which includes both caught and purchased baitfish. Any live holding box or trap must be clearly marked with the name and address of the user, and must be visible without raising it from the water.

Commercial Bait Harvesters: The taking, transporting, buying and selling of baitfishes is authorized for the holder of a commercial bait licence issued by the province under the FWCA and in keeping with the requirements under the OFRs and FWCA. The means of taking baitfishes may be specified on the individual commercial bait licence. Licensed harvesters or dealers are required to record harvest and/or maintain receipt of baitfishes in log books and submit annual reports.

Use of baitfishes

Anglers can find a complete up-to-date listing of which fish species can be used as live baitfish in the OFRs.

Species listed as invasive fishes under the OFRs cannot be possessed alive. The use of bait is prohibited in some waters. No crayfishes, salamanders, live fishes or live leeches can be brought into Ontario for use as bait. It is illegal to release any live bait, or dump the contents of a bait container (including the water) into any waters or within 30 m of any waters.

In addition, fishes listed as Extirpated, Endangered, Threatened or Special Concern under either the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) or the Ontario Endangered Species Act, 2007 cannot be used as baitfishes. Species considered sportfishes cannot be used as live bait.

The legal status of baitfish species may change over time. Be sure to check the latest version of the Ontario Recreational Fishing Regulations Summary for up-to-date information. Go to Fishing with live bait.

Federal Fisheries Act

In Canada, this Act makes it unlawful to carry out any work, undertaking or activity that results in serious harm to fish that are part of, or support, a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery, unless authorized by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Serious harm to fish is defined in this Act as the death of fish or any permanent alteration to, or destruction of, fish habitat.

Website: Fisheries Act.

Federal Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations

In May 2015, Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations were added to the federal Fisheries Act to prevent the importation and spread of aquatic invasive species. Under the regulations, the importation, possession, transport, and release of listed species is prohibited unless they are dead and, in some cases, eviscerated (gutted).

Website: Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations

Federal Species at Risk Act

The federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) came into force in June 2004, and aims to protect native wildlife at risk, including fishes, from becoming lost from the wild, to provide for their recovery and to manage species of special concern. Under Section 32 of SARA, general prohibitions apply to fishes designated as extirpated, endangered or threatened. Fishes designated as such cannot be killed, harmed, harassed, captured, taken, possessed, collected, bought, sold or traded and the habitat that has been deemed vital to their survival or recovery is also protected. 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 list of species on schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act can be accessed on the following website below.

Website: Species at Risk Act

Ontario Invasive Species Act, 2015

In November 2015, the provincial Invasive Species Act, 2015 (ISA) came into effect in Ontario to prevent and control the spread of invasive species in the natural environment. The Act includes a list of prohibited species not established, and restricted species established, in the province that are illegal to possess, transport, or release.

Website: Ontario Invasive Species Act.

Ontario Endangered Species Act, 2007

In June 2008, the provincial Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) came into effect in Ontario to protect at risk species and their habitats, to promote the recovery of species that are at risk, and to promote stewardship activities to assist in the protection and recovery of species that are at risk. Endangered, threatened or extirpated species, and their habitats, receive legal protection under the ESA. The Act calls for the creation of recovery strategies for endangered and threatened species, and management plans for special concern species.

Website: Ontario Endangered Species Act

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