More than 50 people from Manitoba's fishing industry met with Conservation minister Gord Mackintosh Friday in Gimli

They discussed how to keep people who depend on Lake Winnipeg afloat this spring, with the closure of four harbours.

The province is planning to use liquid potash to deal with an infestation of zebra mussels and is shutting down the harbours to control the spread.

Some people in the fishing industry wanted divers to go into the water to determine just how serious the problem is after the bitterly cold winter, before the potash is dumped into the lake. 

zebra mussels

Manitoba Conservation is trying to find ways to deal with a zebra mussel invasion in Lake Winnipeg while allowing people who rely on the fishing industry access to the water. (CBC)

But officials raised concerns about the cost and whether that would be effective, given the murky water. 

On Friday, however, Gord Mackintosh said he will consider that idea. 

"We're going to take the idea of getting some divers out there in the short term," he said. As long as it can be done safely. That's job one."

Edward Alleyn, a former fisherman whose business depends on servicing boats on the lake, said he was pleased with the meeting.

"I expected quite a bit of confrontationism," he said. But .... there was no real anger. It's 'We have a problem.' Everybody's trying to solve it."

Provincial officials said they are trying to find ways for fishing boats to travel in and out of the ports while the lake is being treated with potash.

A working group has been established between fisherman and harbour authorities to look for solutions. 

Alleyn said he's optimistic.

"I think it could be worked out so that so that the fishing industry does not suffer too greatly," he said. "And though the minister did mention as a last resort, compensation, no one wants to go there."

Alleyn said he will be hit hard if no solution is found that would allow fishers and others access to the lake while it's being treated. 

"It would remove between one third and one half of my retirement income for the next year, so it would be a hard blow," he said. "But if it has to be, it has to be. It's our lake... We can't let [it] go."