Manitoba

Freshwater Fish official says commercial fishers ought to have right to market own catch

The president and CEO of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corp. — who's been on administrative leave since March — says commercial fishers in Manitoba should have the right to sell their catch without going through the Crown corporation.

Donald Salkeld, on leave since March, supports Pallister government's plan to allow dual marketing

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

The president and CEO of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corp. — who's been on administrative leave since March — says commercial fishers in Manitoba should have the right to sell their catch without going through the Crown corporation.

Donald Salkeld said the economic outlook for many Manitoba commercial fishers is so bleak, he supports the Progressive Conservative government's plan to provide them with marketing options outside of Freshwater Fish, the Winnipeg-based corporation that buys, processes and then sells most of the fish caught in Manitoba waters.

"They way things are right now I would support dual marketing," Salkeld said Thursday in a telephone interview from Teulon, Man. 

Too many commercial fishers are finding it difficult to make a living, he said.

"I don't think they have any future with the train that's on the track. There are not many young fishers. They've been robbed of their spirit. They need something to give them hope," Salkeld said.

During this spring's provincial election campaign, Brian Pallister's PCs pledged to allow commercial fishers to sell and market their own catch.

Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox has said that remains an objective of the Pallister government.

"We want to give fishers more options and right now they do have limited options, so we we're going to give them the choice to have more options with regard to selling their fish," Cox said in an interview in July.

Cox said she has no timeline in mind for the change.

"We're in the early stages and we have to have lots of discussions yet," she said.

Freshwater Fish Marketing Corp. sold approximately $22 million worth of Manitoba fish a year, according to the corporation's most recent annual report.

The corporation has, in the past, maintained that dual marketing would threaten its ability to operate efficiently and provide fishers with the best possible price for their catch.

Commercial fishers who work closer to Winnipeg, where Freshwater Fish operates a processing plant, have historically been more supportive of single-desk marketing than fishers in remote communities, where it costs more to ship their product.

Cleared of wrongdoing

Salkeld has been on administrative leave since March, when the federal government began investigating allegations of wrongdoing made by a public servant under whistleblower-protection legislation.

Salkeld was purported to have failed to report a loss of 2.72 million kilograms of fish. In a letter dated July 27, the federal integrity commissioner cleared Salkeld of the allegation, noting that the corporation did not lose the value associated with the fish.

Salkeld called the allegations ridiculous and said he may attempt to return his job, which has been posted in his absence.

"I'm considering it because I know what the problems are at Freshwater Fish, having served a good part of a year," he said, declining to be specific.

"These Crown corporations, complacency sets in. And when complacency sets in, you get non-accountability. Then things go astray."

John Wood, who ran Freshwater Fish prior to Salkeld, has been serving as acting president and CEO of the Crown corporation.

Freshwater Fish referred CBC News to Fisheries and Oceans Canada in Ottawa for comment. Media relations manager Frank Stanek declined to comment on Salkeld, calling it a personnel matter.

About the Author

Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.