The Rural Municipality of St. Clements is mounting a campaign to have the province ban ice-fishing shacks from the Red River in a bid to end the mess left behind each spring.

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Trash marks where an ice-fishing shack once stood on the Red River. A Natural Resources officer says the shacks are more like party huts.

NATURAL RESOURCES PHOTO

Trash marks where an ice-fishing shack once stood on the Red River. A Natural Resources officer says the shacks are more like party huts.

The Rural Municipality of St. Clements is mounting a campaign to have the province ban ice-fishing shacks from the Red River in a bid to end the mess left behind each spring.

In a letter to Water Stewardship Minister Christine Melnick, the rural municipality north of Winnipeg said it's seeking support from the neighbouring RM of St. Andrews and the City of Selkirk to prohibit the installation of permanent ice-fishing shelters.

Pails of human waste, treated lumber, furniture, booze bottles and five entire shacks were among the items left behind after the March 15 deadline to remove ice shacks.

"We feel the municipality should do their part by speaking out against these ice shelters and the unnecessary carnage they leave behind on the ice," the RM wrote in a March 25 letter to Melnick.

St. Clements Coun. Robert Belanger said no amount of education or enforcement has prevented the annual "environmental disaster" on the Red, which he points out is a Canadian heritage river.

"Go out there in the winter. It's a pigsty. It's a joke," said Belanger, who is also founder and co-ordinator of Red River Operation Cleanup.

"(A permanent shelter ban) is the only solution. You have a cancer, you cut it out."

The RM also warns the maze of ice shacks made it difficult for ice-cutters working to minimize flooding damage from spring ice jams.

Melnick was not available for comment.

However, André Desrosiers from Manitoba Natural Resources said he's disgusted at what he sees when he patrols the river in the winter.

"Seventy-five per cent of the people using these permanent shelters, they're no longer fishing shelters. They're party places," he said.

Some shacks Desrosiers has removed after the March 15 deadline didn't even have fishing holes, he said.

Of the 520 shacks on the Red this winter, about 80 per cent of them were involved in some kind of illegal activity. In late February, RCMP and Natural Resources issued 12 tickets for fishing and open-liquor infractions after checking about 200 shacks.

St. Clements Mayor Steve Strang said the province recognizes the problem and he is discussing options such as issuing shack permits, enhanced licensing, or even the establishment of a river commission to oversee such activities on the Red. Another solution the RM proposed is temporary pop-up shelters.

"I don't want to take this fishery away," Strang said.

"We have to find a solution... is it outright banning them? If we can't come up with a (solution) then it may be the only answer, but I think we can by talking to everybody."

Donovan Pearase, president of the Walleye Anglers Association of Manitoba, said he would prefer a licensing system, more money for enforcement and heavy fines -- rather than an outright ban on shacks.

"Nobody should have their rights stepped on. It's a small percentage out here who are ruining it for everybody,'' Pearase said.

"Go after the people who are doing it. Set up rules, licences, and have enough enforcement present on the river to stop these people from doing this."

He said the sewage and garbage from permanent shacks is nothing compared with what the City of Winnipeg puts in the river.

Existing legislation requires ice-fishing shacks to have a name and address displayed on the outside.

sean.ledwich@freepress.mb.ca