Manitoba to allow fishermen to market their own catch

Freshwater fishermen will soon be able to market their own catch outside of Manitoba.

'It’s going to revolutionize the industry,' says commercial fisher

Swan River MLA Rick Wowchuk said the province will be assembling an envoy to oversee the restructuring of commercial fisheries in Manitoba. (CBC)

Freshwater fishermen will soon be able to market their own catch outside of Manitoba.

On the banks of Lake Winnipeg in Gimli, the province announced Tuesday that it has notified the federal government it will be withdrawing from the Freshwater Fish Marketing Act.

The legislation enables the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC) to buy, processes and then sell most of the fish caught in Manitoba waters.

The Crown corporation, as a kind of monopoly, sets a price for freshwater fish from Manitoba and markets the products outside of the province.

Rick Wowchuk, legislative assistant to Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox, said giving fishermen options to market their own catch will allow them to "get the best dollar for their product."

"We believe there is potential to increase fishers' incomes by allowing the choice of marketing their own product to the world seafood market," Wowchuk said.

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.

The province will assign an envoy to oversee the restructuring of the commercial fisheries market, Wowchuk said.

Amanda Stevenson, a commercial fisher at Lake St. Martin, called Monday's announcement "incredible."

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

"They'll be able to make better money. They'll be able to access markets they weren't able to before. There's a lot of economic opportunity."

But Manitoba's NDP was less enthusiastic about the change.

Opposition against Tory plans

NDP MLA and green jobs critic Rob Altemeyer said the FFMC has provided a stable income to fishermen for many years. He said some smaller communities may have difficulty reaching out to foreign markets.

"Some fishers may benefit from going alone, but many could find themselves struggling to get their fish to market without the corporation, said Altemayer in a news release.

The NDP warned that an exit from the Freshwater Fish Marketing Act could be a repeat of what happened after the Canadian Wheat Board disbanded — which the advocacy group, Canadian Wheat Board Alliance, says contributed to billions of dollars in losses.

The Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) says it is "cautiously optimistic" about the government's plan. Métis fishers make up the majority of Manitoba's commercial fishery.

MMF president David Chartrand said fishermen have a lot of questions about the changes, such as when fishermen may begin marketing their own catch and what the new rules might look like.

"MMF will commence a process of provincewide consultation with fishers by early fall to develop a co-ordinated response by fishers to the announcement. In the meantime, the MMF will pursue answers from the provincial government to the fishers' questions and concerns," Chartrand said in a news release.

There are more than 470 commercial fishers in Manitoba, according to the provincial government. Last year, the industry generated $22 million.

Donald Salkeld, who is currently on administrative leave as president and CEO of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corp., told CBC News last week that he supports opening up the fish market in Manitoba.

The head office for the FFMC is located in Winnipeg and employs more 150 people. It has been operating in the province since 1969.