Ever heard the expression about city folks moving to the countryside and complaining about the cow patties? That in a nutshell is what those who hunt ducks on Ontario’s Gravelly Bay — located on the eastern shore of Lake Erie adjacent to the city of Port Colborne — have dealt with for more than three decades.
“People from Toronto are moving into the area, buying lakefront homes, and taking exception to the hunting,” said Greg Sarkisian, chairman of the Niagara Region Chapter of Delta Waterfowl. “That’s always been the catalyst.”
In 1983, following noise complaints regarding shotgun blasts — which have echoed across the bay for generations — the Port Colborne council amended its bylaws to prohibit discharging a firearm within 600 feet of the Gravelly Bay shoreline. Hunters not only complied, they extended an olive branch: An unwritten rule declared nobody would hunt Gravelly Bay prior to Thanksgiving. Yet tensions continued to simmer, and they boiled over last year when a nearby homeowner’s association hired a law firm to argue for a complete ban on Gravelly Bay duck hunting.
“It’s not a huge stretch of water, but a lot of people hunt that bay,” Sarkisian said. “Finding a place to hunt around here is brutal, and losing Gravelly Bay would’ve been the nail in the coffin for many duck hunters.”
Sarkisian alerted Delta Waterfowl, and The Duck Hunters Organization acted swiftly. Maya Basdeo, Delta’s Ontario waterfowl programs manager, served as the voice of duck hunters at an October 2018 city council meeting best described as “heated.” Jim Fisher, Delta’s senior director of Canadian conservation and hunting policy, followed up with a letter to the council praising the longstanding tradition of waterfowl hunting on Gravelly Bay. And at the conclusion of months of advocacy, Delta Waterfowl staff, members and volunteers made plans to attend a council meeting in July 2019 to decide the fate of waterfowl hunting on Gravelly Bay.
To everyone’s amazement, not a single anti-hunter bothered showing up.
“I think they saw they were going to lose the battle,” said Blake Schmirler, Delta Waterfowl’s regional director for Ontario. “Delta representatives spoke intelligently on hunting and the laws already in place, which some members of the council didn’t realize existed, and that really turned the tide.”
Not only did the Port Colborne council vote against the proposed ban, they ruled that signs will be posted in key locations of the bay informing that hunting is taking place and interference is illegal. Delta Waterfowl has been invited to assist with the language. The homeowners’ association did receive an acknowledgement: The no-hunting zone was extended by 50 yards, which won’t affect any of the area’s permanent blinds and will have a negligible impact on boat-blind hunters.
Delta’s partner, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, was instrumental in the effort to save duck hunting on Gravelly Bay.
“We appreciate the work of the OFAH,” Fisher said. “The world is run by those who show up. If Delta and OFAH didn’t show up, if duck hunters didn’t show up, then a hunting ban was a real possibility.” — Kyle Wintersteen