Province orders fisheries review after Manitoba fish get 'do not buy' rating

The province has ordered a review of Manitoba’s fisheries after a scathing review from sustainable fisheries organization SeaChoice.

SeaChoice says 3 of Manitoba's largest lakes, including Lake Winnipeg, basically unmanaged

Pickerel being cleaned at a Nipissing First Nation processing plant in Ontario. On Monday, watchdog group SeaChoice said fisheries in Manitoba's three largest lakes are virtually unmanaged.

The province has ordered a review of Manitoba's fisheries after a scathing review from sustainable fisheries organization SeaChoice.

On Monday, Seachoice released a report that gave fish caught in Manitoba's three largest lake a "do not buy" rating.

All species of fish caught in Lake Winnipeg, Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipegosis should be avoided by consumers and retailers until more sustainable fishery methods are in place, the report said.

"The main concern is a lack really [of a] basic stock assessment, understanding how much [fish stock] is actually in these lakes," said Scott Wallace, senior research scientist at the David Suzuki Foundation and a consultant with the SeaChoice program.

Manitoba does not keep track of how many fish are in lakes, nor does it have a threshold for stopping fisheries if stocks get too low, said Wallace.

In other words the lakes are "unmanaged," he said.

"As a result, many fish stocks have collapsed or are severely depleted," said a SeaChoice news release.

"There's no reference points … most fisheries now, if it gets very low, there's a point where no fishery is permitted," Wallace said.

SeaChoice also raised concerns about a "bycatch issue." Due to Manitoba's quota system for managing fish, fishers are throwing away many species of a lower value, said Wallace.

SeaChoice looked at the following criteria:

  • health of the fish stock;
  • bycatch impacts;
  • general management effectiveness; and
  • habitat and ecosystem impacts of fisheries.

​SeaChoice's red rating for the three Manitoba lakes makes them "comparable to some of the most poorly managed fisheries in the world," said the watchdog group's release.

Harold Westdal to lead committee, action plan

Monday afternoon, the provincial officials responded by appointing economist Harold Westdal to review the province's fisheries.

He's tasked with forming a committee and producing an action plan to respond to Seachoice's recommendations.

Westdal will begin consultations with local commercial fisher representatives and First Nations in the coming weeks, and a report is expected out in mid-2016.

One of SeaChoice's recommendations is investing in monitoring. 

"More resources given towards the fisheries branch to undertake rudimentary stock assessments would be important," said Wallace.

An 'accurate' assessment: Conservation director

A Manitoba Conservation official said he agrees with much of SeaChoice's critical report.

"They've made some accurate assessments," said Jim Duncan, director of fish and wildlife with Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship.

"I think it's quite important that we listen carefully to what they've said. We need to reassess how we are doing business."

Better management of fish stocks, which includes more monitoring and stronger enforcement, are just two of the changes Duncan said need to happen in the province to ensure the health of fish stocks. Currently Manitoba monitors fish counts through index netting (a standard process for assessing fish stocks) and reports made to the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corp., he said.

"I think the trend for some species is stable and the trend for other species, like walleye [also known as pickerel], has been declining in the last few years according to the best scientific information that we have," he said. 

Manitoba has one of the largest freshwater fisheries in North America, Duncan added. 

"We need to continue to work with the fishers. They're the folks who are out on the lakes, and they have first-hand experience and knowledge that is critical." 


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