Huts and other debris can cause problems for wildlife and summer recreation

thumb DSC_9996Ice fishing is a great way to enjoy the outdoors during Alberta’s harsh winters. But, when the spring thaw comes around, some fishermen are leaving their huts on the melting lake, creating a mess for summer users.

Currently, there is no way of easily identifying hut owners, allowing fines to be levied against those responsible for abandoning them.

But that’s something Susan Samson, the mayor of Sylvan Lake, wants to change. She has seen the consequences of that mess first hand.

Debris from the abandoned huts includes, “wood, gasoline, furniture, plastic and metal,” Samson explains in a PowerPoint on the issue.

The debris sinks to the bottom or remains floating after the ice melts, washing up on the shore and causing boating and swimming hazards.

If left to sit through the spring, the huts can also pose a threat to the local environment, contaminating fish and waterfowl habitat.

A Good Example

In Ontario, ice fishers are required to register their huts by law, while fishers whose huts sink face a $200 fine.

icefishingThe RCMP, representatives from Alberta Environment and Water and officials from Sylvan Lake face danger in order to pull out the semi-submerged shelters that are left behind after the ice melts.

Photo courtesy of Mayor Susan SamsonThat kind of registration system is something Samson wants to see in Alberta.

As a result, her municipality drafted resolutions urging the associations representing rural and urban municipalities to support that position.

The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association passed that resolution, but it was denied by the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties.

The AAMDC “didn’t feel that a provincial registry of huts was the way to go,” said Gerald Rhodes, the organization’s executive director.

“The membership generally supported an anti-regulation position regarding a recreational activity and felt there should simply be more enforcement and education with the rules that are already in place.”

In any case, Nikki Booth, the acting issues manager for Alberta’s Environment and Sustainable Resources Development Communications, said the government is “not looking at this time to change our legislation.”

Under that legislation, no one can leave waste on, in or under the ice.

“We can issue a ticket for $175, or we can prosecute people and then the fines go up dramatically to $100,000. We are focused primarily on education and prevention rather than fines and enforcement,” Booth said.

Indeed, if the huts are not registered there is no contact information of the user, and therefore no way to enforce anything if the hut is left on the ice.

icefishingIce huts can get pretty elaborate. Instead they act as a home away from home. Fully loaded with televisions, fireplaces, couches and even swing sets.

Photo by Caitlin ClowUntil that changes, Samson and the town of Sylvan Lake have been pushing a voluntary registration system called Take it off!

Pushing a Solution

The Take it off! program, as expressed in Samson’s PowerPoint, acts as “a complement to the Respect our Lakes program that (the province) currently runs.”

Fishermen can register in person or online, and, as a bonus, they get front-door delivery service when Samson goes out onto the lake to visit and educate users of the program.

“There has been really positive feedback,” Samson said about all of the ice fishers who have signed up so far.

Samson made the observation that the people who have registered take a leadership role for those who haven’t, resulting in a “self policing force.”

Since the start of Take it off! Sylvan Lake has seen the number of abandoned ice fishing huts drop significantly, with only five huts remaining last spring, down from 25 in 2011.

“Sylvan Lake belongs to everyone,” Samson said. “It’s our community’s job to act as good stewards.”

And until there is registration legislation in place, Mayor Samson will trek out onto the frozen lake and try to speak with all lake users and encourage them to register.

Do you think there should there be registration legislation for ice fishing huts?

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