Manitoba

Manitoba aims to restore fish supply in Lake Winnipeg by buying back quotas, changing net sizes

The Manitoba government is trying to replenish the fish stock in Lake Winnipeg by reducing the number of fishers, and changing the mesh size on their fishing nets.

Value of purchased quotas estimated at nearly $5.5 million

Among its proposed regulatory changes, the province wants to increase fishing net mesh sizes to allow smaller walleye and sauger to wriggle through, so they can eventually spawn. (Daniel Miller/Associated Press)

The Manitoba government is trying to replenish the fish stock in Lake Winnipeg by reducing the number of allowable catches, and changing the mesh size on fishing nets. 

The province says it has bought back 126 quotas from 90 fishers, representing almost 525,000 kilograms of fish that can no longer be caught commercially. 

Quotas determine how much fish can be taken from the water each year by commercial fishers.

It will also increase the minimum size of netting to three-and-a-half inches on the lake's South Basin and channel areas, from three and one-quarter inches, so more small fish can evade capture from commercial fishing. 

The size of Manitoba's fish stock has been depleting due to overfishing, and these regulation changes will move the body of water closer to a tenable population, said Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires. 

"We know that we're moving in the right direction," she said. "We still have a ways to go and we will be announcing a second phase of a voluntary quota buyback program in the days to come."

Quotas still above sustainable levels

The province's commercial fishers have been able to take 7.3 million kilograms of fish from its largest lake each year, but sustainability experts say it should only be around 5.3 million kilograms to keep the stock at a healthy rate.

The quotas sold back to the province were valued at almost $5.5 million. The fishers were paid between $4-6 a pound, a news release said.

The government initially wanted to set the minimum netting size at three and three-quarter inches, but it altered the size and implementation date based on feedback from fishers. They will have to use the new netting for the 2020 commercial fishing season. 

"We want them to spawn at least one or two seasons before they end up in the net," Squires said. 

Saving fish long overdue

As of April 2020, any walleye or sauger must be at least 35 cm in length to be taken from Lake Winnipeg, the Winnipeg River below the Pine Falls dam, Red River below the Lockport Dam or Saskatchewan River below the Grand Rapids dam.

University of Winnipeg fisheries biologist Scott Forbes told CBC News in April that these moves from government have been a long time coming. 

But Forbes said more needs to be done to protect the fishery.

"We don't actually manage the walleye in Lake Winnipeg. That's the problem there," he said.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese reports from the Manitoba Legislature for CBC Manitoba. He previously wrote for the Brandon Sun and the Carillon in Steinbach. Story idea? Email ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With files from Bryce Hoye

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