Northern fishers worry about future of their industry without marketing board

Northern fishers say changes to the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation could devastate the industry in the region - and the livelihood of many families.

Opposition says opening rules on fish sales could harm northern fishers

Northern fishers say the PC government is not listening to their concerns about their industry without the monopoly of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corp. (Jeff Stapleton CBC News )

Northern fishers say changes to the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation could devastate the industry in the region and the livelihood of many families.

They are also accusing the  Progressive Conservative government of poor communication and weak consultation with people in the industry.

In August, the PC government told the federal government it would be withdrawing its participation from the marketing agency in order to "create flexible marketing options for commercial fishers in the province." 

Under the new regime, fishers would still have the choice to market their fish through the FFMC or, if they so choose, they can go it alone.

But the move has created uncertainty for fishers at the north end of Lake Winnipeg. 
Langford Saunders says hundreds of northerners depend on income from Manitoba's commercial fishing industry, and that that will be jeopardized without the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation. (Jeff Stapleton CBC News )

"We want the security that the Freshwater Fish [Marketing Corporation] has given us over the years," said Langford Saunders, who represents approximately 50 Indigenous fishers around Norway House.

Saunders appeared Friday with other representatives of northern fishers at a press conference set up by the NDP opposition. He says the fishers he speaks for provide economic security to approximately 1,500 people through the region.

Without the marketing corporation's monopoly, northern fishers are worried how they will sell and transport their catch and whether they will get guaranteed prices for the product. Saunders says fishers around Norway House caught approximately 900,000 kilograms of fish this season, the vast majority being whitefish.

Politicians 'jump the gun'

The fishers say the PC government has done a poor job of consulting with northerners. Reg Meade, the mayor of Wabowden and a fisher, says sometimes politicians jump the gun.

"They have to do their homework and listen to the fishermen. Not the leaders, but the actual producers that are on the lake and see what their feelings are and how they feel this industry can go," Meade said.

Meade says a majority of fishers supports the FFMC. The issue has clearly divided the industry. 

Amanda Stevenson, a commercial fisher at Lake St. Martin, told CBC News after the province's announcement in April the move was "incredible," and represented "an opportunity for fishers to make better money. They'll be able to access markets they weren't able to before."

"It's going to revolutionize the industry and completely change fishermen's lives," Stevenson said.

More than a dozen public meetings 

A statement from Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox says 15 separate public consultations have been held across the province, attended by nearly 300 fishers.

"The Manitoba Government is committed to allowing fishers to get out from under the monopoly of the FFMC and increase earning potential for their catch. Making the transition to flexible marketing poses numerous challenges to fishers, which is why we have assigned a fisheries envoy to carry out an extensive consultation to identify those challenges and work toward providing solutions during the transition process," said Cox in a release to CBC News.