Head of Métis group calls on government to buoy fishing industry

Following missing payments of close to a million dollars to fisheries in the province, the head of the Manitoba Métis Federation is calling on the government for support.

The Manitoba Métis Federation has called an emergency meeting, lobbying government

David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation, says Manitoba's fishing industry needs government support. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Following missing payments of close to $1 million to fisheries in the province, the head of the Manitoba Métis Federation is calling on the government for support.

"It's been a very difficult scenario for the fishermen," MMF president David Chartrand said, adding he doesn't think the various levels of government are doing enough to help. 

Chartrand said Manitoba's fishing industry is an 80 per cent Indigenous workforce, and of that percentage, about 50 per cent are Métis.

Manitoba's fishing industry recently switched to an open market system. Nearly a month after that change, Manitoba fisheries Dawson Bay Fish Packers, Eddystone Fisheries Co-op, Ashern Fisheries Co-op and Waterhen Winter Fisheries saw delayed payments of close to $1 million.

Manitoba's Department of Sustainable Development told CBC News they are investigating.

Chartrand said $1 million is a drop in the bucket, and the government should be looking at how to support the entire multi-million dollar industry, instead of investigating individual incidents.

Walleye frozen on the surface of Lake Winnipeg (Mikey Smith)

"The fishermen are facing a massive industry on their own right now, and they've always been on their own, which is unfortunate. They pay taxes and should be protected and supported, just like any other industry out there," Chartrand said.

He said fishing is the only form of employment in many of the province's rural communities and reserves.

Emergency meeting

Chartrand said the MMF has called an emergency meeting to bring together fishers, processing plants and agents to develop a strategy.

He said the Manitoba Métis Federation will propose a cooperative where fishers are also the owners of operations, giving them increased access to pension plans and subsidization during hard times.

"To make sure, in short, the industry survives," Chartrand said.

Chartrand is lobbying the federal Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Dominic LeBlanc, and provincial Minister of Sustainable Development, Rochelle Squires, to attend the meeting.

"We're going to make sure we put the fire to their feet, [and] we're going to make sure we try to help the fishermen figure their way out of this one."  

Fisheries in the province still have the option to market their fish with Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation.

But Chartrand said that limits fishers, as they need to sign long-term contracts in order to receive full-price for their fish, and the organization will only buy certain species of fish at certain times.

Government reaction

"Minister Squires is interested in learning more details about the Manitoba Métis Federation's planned meeting as [it develops]," a provincial spokesperson said.

In the meantime, the minister will be touring the Interlake early next month to speak directly with fishers about possible regulatory changes, the spokesperson said.
Manitoba Environment Minister Rochelle Squires will be touring the Interlake next month to speak with fishers about possible regulatory changes, a government spokesperson said. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The spokesperson said the investigation into the "unacceptable lack of payment" to fishers in Manitoba is being continued by Manitoba's chief conservation officer, and Squires will be meeting with the head of Northern Walleye this coming week "for a frank conversation about what has occurred."

CBC has requested comment from the Federal Government.