Letter to the Editor: Pallister Government Buy Back Hurts the Small Commercial Fishers

March 14, 2019

Turtle Island Commercial Fisheries Cooperative Ltd.
Arnold Asham
150 Henry Avenue, Winnipeg, MB R3B 0J7
1 (204) 299- 3944


Pallister Government Buy Back Hurts the Small Commercial Fishers

Response to: Winnipeg Free Press Article -  
March 11, 2019: "
Province moves to replenish fish stocks  - Fish quota buy back included in plan to protect Lake Winnipeg"

Many of our small communities rely on income from freshwater fishing to support their families. For many, this is the last of the traditional economies and one of the few accessible opportunities for our rural and northern citizens. A strong fishery drives many of the small businesses such as mechanics, equipment suppliers, grocery stores, and gas stations to mention a few. Yet for years small commercial fishers have found their incomes declining and their livelihood more difficult. With this decline so too have local economies.

To ensure a sustainable fishing future there needed to be investments in hatcheries, rearing ponds, marketing, and research. This was not done. The Pallister Government did nothing. It made next to no investment in the industry, in the environmental health of our lakes and ecosystems, and in enhancing the fish populations themselves. Indeed, by doing nothing before, and now making decisions without research and without considering the effects on our small communities, Pallister’s Government has promoted the dismantling of the industry.

Despite the important and meaningful steps that needed to be made prior to Pallister’s decision, according to the article, there has been no consultation with the hardworking and taxpaying commercial fishers, their families and their communities. The Pallister Government already made its decision and now it talks about an upcoming 30-day consultation period. That’s backwards.

It is not surprising there is trouble on Lake Winnipeg. The Pallister Government’s quota buy back may immediately put over a hundred fishers out of work and impact a hundred families or more, not to mention the impact to local economies. Surely there will be short-term benefit from the purchase of the quota, but the fishers, their families, and communities – once the buy out money is spent  - will feel the negative impact for decades. With the removal of quotas an important source of future revenue will be gone, possibly for generations.

The Lake Winnipeg fishery is a major factor in the success or failure of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC). The Pallister Government hopes to decrease the Lake Winnipeg quota from 7.3 million kg to 5.3 million is a decline of 27 %. This decline in fish supply to FFMC will inevitably impact on its financial stability.  What will happen to the remaining small fishers on Lake Winnipeg, as well as on other Lakes, if the FFMC goes out of business? Where will they sell their fish? Will they be treated fairly and receive a good dollar for honest work?

Although initially decreasing the quota by 27%, Minister Squires then goes on to say she will permanently retire only 5 to 8 % of the quota. Everyone should ask what happens with the remaining 19 to 22 % that is not being permanently retired. Who is going to get this? Will it be the big commercial fisher? Does the retired quota of 5 to 8 % go to the sports fishers from the United States or elsewhere?

It is not surprising that the Pallister Government is setting this up in a way that pits the livelihoods of the small commercial fisher against the interests of the big commercial fishers and all commercial fishers against the sports fishers. It is no surprise that the large commercial fisher from Gimli area likes the idea of quota buy back. It is no surprise that the sport fishing spokesperson lauded the government’s decision.

The Pallister Government portrays itself to be riding in on white horse to save the day, but may indeed prove to be an ominous rider on a dark horse.

Arnold Asham

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