Manitoba

Plan to replenish fish stocks will devastate communities: Manitoba Metis Federation

Métis​​​​​​​ and First Nations fishers say the Manitoba government’s efforts to replenish fish stocks in Lake Winnipeg by cutting back the number of allowable catches and changing mesh size on fishing nets will have a devastating effect on Indigenous communities that rely on the industry.

Métis​​​​​​​, First Nations fishers call out province's plan buy back quotas, change net sizes

Métis and First Nations fishers are criticizing the province's efforts to replenish fish stocks in Lake Winnipeg. (CBC)

Métis and First Nations fishers say the Manitoba government's efforts to replenish fish stocks in Lake Winnipeg by cutting back the number of allowable catches and changing mesh size on fishing nets will have a devastating effect on Indigenous communities that rely on the industry.

This week, the province announced it has bought back 126 quota entitlements from 90 fishers, representing almost 525,000 kilograms of fish that can no longer be caught commercially.

It also plans to increase the minimum size of netting, to a three-and-a-half inch mesh size on the lake's south basin and channel areas, up from three-and-one-quarter inches. The wider gaps in net mesh will allow more small fish to evade capture.

Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand says the changes will have ripple effects on the economies of rural Métis villages that rely on the Lake Winnipeg fishery.

Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand says reducing the amount of fish pulled out of Lake Winnipeg will have negative economic effects on Métis communities that rely on the fishing industry. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

"The people that house the plants where the fish go to be reviewed and passed and move on to the next level for sale, those fish co-ops are going to be shutting down because they don't have enough fish," he told CBC News Thursday.

"It's like a domino effect.... Not only will the fishing be hit, so will the stores, all the little businesses that depend on it.

"This is about actual survival of jobs, community, family — and fishermen really feel betrayed at this point."

A response to overfishing

The provincial government says Manitoba's fish stock has been depleting due to overfishing, and the changes will move Lake Winnipeg closer to a tenable population.

"We know that we're moving in the right direction," said Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires earlier this week.

Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires says the government's plan is a move in the right direction. (Wendy Beulow/CBC)

Commercial fishers in Manitoba take 7.3 million kilograms of fish from Lake Winnipeg 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 determine how much fish can be taken from the water each year by commercial fishers. Those sold back to the province were valued at almost $5.5 million.

Chartrand joined leaders from Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and the Southern Chiefs' Organization for an emergency meeting in Winnipeg Wednesday to talk about the changes.

'We should invest into lakes'

He says the group disagrees with the province's approach to replenish fish stocks and worries the cost of replacing equipment to fit the province's new minimum netting size requirements — which come into effect in 2020 — will push some fishers out of the industry.

"We should invest into lakes, invest into rearing ponds and stocking up our lakes," he said.

"There are so many different variables that are sitting there for this government to use as a tool."

Chartrand said the MMF would be willing to work with government to fund efforts to boost stock without reducing quotas, including cleaning up creeks and rivers where fish spawn and building rearing ponds for healthy new stock to grow.

But he said the province did not consult with Métis and First Nation fishers before enacting the changes.

"When the government says consultation occurred … they're misleading Manitobans," he said.

A spokesperson for Squires said the province did talk with Métis and First Nation fishers and would be willing to work with the Métis federation going forward.

The minister wouldn't comment on the specific concerns raised by the MMF.

With files from Ian Froese

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