$8.9M in funding announced for new Hay River fish plant

Hay River is getting a new fish plant, announced the territorial and federal governments today in the community.

Plant projected to be open in the summer of 2020

A worker empties a bucket of fish inside Hay River's fish plant. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

Hay River is getting a new fish plant, announced the territorial and federal governments in the community today. The federal government is putting $6.6 million toward the project, and the territorial government is putting forward $2.3 million.

In a press release, the territorial government says the commercial fishing industry has declined, but the "wealth of fish" in the lake has not.

A firm located in the N.W.T. is designing the plant, and the territorial government will tender its construction. It will be built on two territorial government-owned lots adjacent to the existing Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC).

Two workers in gloves and smocks are seen working inside a fish plant. One woman is holding a fish over a plastic bin.
Nora Twin, left, and Ricardo Fernandez-Twin grade and and weigh a fish before it is packed and shipped south for processing. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

The current facility, built in 1971, employs about four seasonal workers between June and October. It's owned by the FFMC, a Crown corporation based in Winnipeg. It leases the plant to the NWT Fishermen's Federation. The current building does not process the fish; it receives, ices and ships the fish south. 

The current manager told CBC in August the plant is in need of serious repair and more should have been done to maintain the current facility. 

The territorial government will be working with the fisherman's federation through its Tu Cho Fishers Cooperative, to run the plant alongside the FFMC. The plant is expected to employ up to 24 seasonal employees.

The co-operative will be responsible for the plant's operating costs, paid out of the revenues from the fish products.

"It is assumed that additional revenues will be created in the production of added value by-products," states the press release. This could include smoked fish, oils, candied fish, roe and whole gutted fish.

Hay River's existing fish plant was constructed in 1971. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

The territorial government is also planning to establish collection stations in Yellowknife and Fort Resolution.

The funding is part of the territorial government's Strategy for Revitalizing the Great Slave Lake Commercial Fishery.

In the release, the territorial government says longstanding fishers in the territory will be offered resources and money to update their operations, and "training programs, aimed at increasing the number of northerners on the lake, will focus on young fishers," states the press release.

As well, the government will consider making incentives for new fishers to relocate their operations to Great Slave Lake.

Through that strategy, the territorial government will also develop a plan to expand sales to the N.W.T., Canadian and international markets. That plan will be guided by the fishers through the Tu Cho Cooperative. 

Construction is scheduled to start in the spring of 2019, with completion in the summer of 2020.

The new plant is expected to open in 2020. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

With files from Kirsten Murphy