Due to COVID-19, smelt fishing is closed to public at Kagawong

KAGAWONG—Billings council has agreed with a recommendation from its municipal emergency control group (MECG) to close off the Kagawong River to members of the public for the smelt fishing season again this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Billings Township councillor Bryan Barker told the Recorder last Thursday, “we (MECG) had a meeting this morning and decided to close the river to smelt fishing this spring. In order to assist with that we will be looking at hiring a security company to assist us and to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) and Public Health Sudbury and Districts (PHSD) to help.” 

Megan Bonenfant, who also sits on the MECG, told council at a meeting Tuesday, “council has a recommendation from the committee concerning the smelt run, which normally takes place around mid-April and attracts a large number of people who are in close contact at the (Kagawong) River.” She pointed out the Manitoulin area is in the grey, lockdown level for restrictions under provincial COVID-19 restrictions and outside gatherings are limited to five people and as of Thursday, April 15, the province entered a complete stay-at-home order. 

“The idea of having the first people on hand to fish is not practical,” said Ms. Bonenfant. She pointed out verbal commitments have been provided by the MNRF, OPP and PHSD to assist the municipality. “But to be the most effective the committee has recommended hiring a security company to be on hand for two weeks.”

Billings Mayor Ian Anderson read the recommended motion from MECG to council, “to accept the bid from Cancom Security (to supply uniformed guards to cover off the smelt run) from April 9-25 at an estimated cost of $15,368.”

“I think it is important to let people know that the costs with having security at Bridal Veil Falls last summer and with security at the river for the smelt season that this is coming from the taxpayers, but this isn’t the case,” said Councillor Barker. “We have, last summer, and this spring, using funding provided by the province for COVID-19 pandemic. The cost for hiring the security company is coming from provincial funding.” 

Councillor Alkenbrack said, “it does come from the taxpayers, what Bryan means is that it doesn’t come out of our budget. I’m on the fence on this issue but understand and in discussion with Mayor Anderson earlier today it is a courtesy to allow council to vote on this. The emergency group already made the decision on this.” She urged the committee and council “to please look at Bridal Veil Falls this summer and look at hiring a student to be located at the top of the stairs to hand out sanitizer (instead of closing off the falls to the public).”

“We want to make the message clear—I sit in on two medical committee meetings a week, and they are both supportive of what we are doing. If there was an outbreak (of COVID-19) on the Island it would devastate our medical services in treating people on the Island,” said Councillor Barker. “We’re not out to make people’s lives miserable or from enjoying the outdoors but solely to protect the community. When you see what is happening elsewhere, there are more confirmed cases (COVID-19) than there was even last March. And more young people are dying due to the new variants. What we are trying to do is nothing more than trying to protect our citizens from the spread of this virus. It will mean one more season of not being able to fish and then we can get back to normal next year.”

“Hopefully, people will comply with everything that is going on; we don’t want to prevent anyone from enjoying our recreational spaces,” Councillor Barker told the Recorder prior to the meeting. “No, it wasn’t an easy decision for the committee. Everyone wants to respect people wanting to enjoy outdoor activities, but it is hard to follow the guidelines and physically distance when fishing.”
“This will be the second year we have had to close off the river for smelt fishing… God willing it will be the last year,” stated Councillor Barker.