The Baitfish Primer: A Guide to Identifying and Protecting Ontario’s Baitfishes (2018 Revision)

The Baitfish Primer (2018 revision) was authored by by Becky Cudmore and Nicholas E. Mandrak and jointly produced by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Bait Association of Ontario and Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.

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. To many, all small fishes look alike; however, upon closer inspection, most baitfish species can be distinguished from one another with relative ease.

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 sportfishes, introduced (non-native) fishes, or fish species that are so rare that their use may lead to further declines and possible extinction.

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

  • they are listed as Extirpated, Endangered, Threatened, or Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) or the Ontario Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA);
  • they are listed as invasive under federal or provincial legislation and regulations; and/or,
  • they are not included on the allowed baitfish species list in the Ontario Fishery Regulations, 2017 (OFRs).

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. 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 licencing, 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.

This publication is available upon request in multiple formats by contacting Fisheries and Oceans Canada or download the PDF.