Unstable Temperatures Make for Unstable Ice

While many around the province spent the mild start to winter enjoying warm weather, the tepid temperatures have left the commercial fishery well behind normal in deliveries to Freshwater.

Lakes froze, only to warm and break before freezing again.

This not only left many dangerous patches of open water and extremely thin ice but also created rough hummock patches that make it nearly impossible to reach the areas where nets are usually set.

Winnipeg ice is being tested daily for the 15-20 inches of thickness needed to deem conditions safe for on-ice travel.

As of January 5, the ice was only 8-10 inches – a thickness not nearly safe enough to support the multiple ice cuts and heavy equipment required to start commercial ice fishing. Some fishers have even reported losing snowmobiles due to thin ice.

To fully understand these implications, it may help to first set up a bit of background on the intricacies of commercial ice fishing.

Our fishers use large gill nets strung together under the ice from one hole to another. Gangs of nets are normally 50 metres long but some reach a kilometre. The multiple holes required to string nets weaken the ice.

The nets are pulled out of holes and the catch is loaded into Bombardiers or onto trailers pulled by snowmobiles. You can just imagine the amount of stress such heavy loads put on the ice – and the amount of stress placed on fishers as well.

Weak and unpredictable ice threatens cold water fish species. Ice breaks and changes in water temperature can greatly affect nutrients and sediments that are essential to the health of the ecosystem.

Contaminants grow wild in the warmer water, which in turn sucks the oxygen out of the water leaving many fish literally gasping for air. Because of this, many cold water fish are changing their habits, going deeper into the lake or moving farther north.

We look forward to the continued colder temperatures on the horizon and wish warm spirits and future successes to those affected by the slow start to the winter fishery.

- John Wood
President and CEO