When I opened the agenda package last week for Monday's council meeting there were a number of important items on the agenda, and they were agenda items you'd expect to see – the 2018 municipal budget, a follow up to the concerns about RF water metres, an accessibility status report, and so on. But then my eyes caught sight of an agenda item I wasn't expecting to see – fishing restrictions.
A quick scan of the report informed me that staff was recommending that council approve a ban on fishing from the shore of municipal parkland along Bayfield Street due to some less than desirable behaviour exhibited by a handful of those who make use of the popular fishing spot. I was immediately infuriated, and I'm not even an angler.
There's no doubt that there have been issues and complaints about the conduct of some of the folks fishing from that stretch of shoreline – from urinating on park features like the old cannon near Fred Raper's Park, to excessive noise early in the mornings, to complaints of the use of vulgarity and harassment, to overflowing trash cans, along with the illegal sale of fish – all unacceptable behaviour, but it wouldn't justify banning all fishing in that area.
For as long as there have been humans in this area, fish have been caught from the shoreline along what is now Bayfield Street, and while there is certainly not a 'right' for people to fish wherever they want, over the decades the Bayfield Street shoreline has been a popular fishing spot for locals and visitors alike, and I simply couldn't fathom banning the activity because of a few bad apples.
I don't like things being taken away from people (you know, like if you have a hard-surfaced road one day and you wake up the next and it's been pulverized and turned to gravel), and it really isn't an answer to the problem, so I was pleased to see a number of fishing enthusiasts in the council chamber on Monday (I don't think I've ever seen so much camouflage in the council chamber before). I was even more pleased to see representatives from the BIA and the Chamber of Commerce step up and ask council to step on the brakes a little before they went too far and approved the recommended ban. The BIA asked for some time to explore the issue, and to explore potential solutions that wouldn't be as draconian as banning fishing from the shore.
I was also pleased to see that council listened, and deferred any decision until the new year.
The simple fact is that fishing is an incredibly popular activity in this country, and this community is fortunate enough to have a very large body of water filled with fish at our doorstep. Some people fish for fun, though most fish for food in addition to the fun, and I just can't see the wisdom in banning people from catching dinner because a handful lack social graces.
Fun and food aside, fishing is also a very profitable industry. According to the Canadian Sport Fishing Industry association (CSIA), Canada's nine million anglers spend more than $8 billion per year on the sport (yes, that's billion with a 'b') – that's quite a market for any community on a body of water filled with fish hoping to grow their tourism sector. A ban on fishing at a popular spot would certainly not help this community in its attempts to build upon its appeal to tourists.
Meaford clearly wants to be in the tourism game, and the fact is that if you're inviting visitors into your community to take advantage of the natural wonders you have to share, some frustrations are bound to come along – we might need to empty trash cans more frequently, we may find that there's a need to step up enforcement of municipal bylaws, or to create new bylaws to address specific issues, but you simply shouldn't ban a popular and profitable activity like fishing as there are bound to be better solutions.
If people were littering on the Georgian Trail, or if a handful of hikers were urinating on the fences of properties lining the trail would we close the trail and ban hiking, or would we address the specific issues? I think we all know the answer.
To be blunt, banning fishing from the municipal parkland along Bayfield Street is a dumb idea. To address the small handful of individuals that have been reported to be causing problems, seems like a much more prudent approach – I suspect that the 99 percent of anglers who use the popular fishing spot and aren't causing these problems are just as eager to see the trouble makers dealt with; let's not punish the many good ones for the sins of a few.