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Manitoba fishers push for changes to sales laws

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A group of Manitoba-based fisherman are looking to arrest public attention to their plight — or get arrested trying.

Members of the WMM Fisheries Cooperative Ltd., who largely operate out of the Lake Winnipeg north basin, plan to hold a demonstration in Dauphin Sept. 20, then embark on a two-hour journey to "sell" fish fillets to a food bank in Yorkton, across the Saskatchewan border.

The symbolic protest is technically illegal under federal guidelines imposed by the Winnipeg-based Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation.

"We’re doing it because we hope we get thrown in jail," said protest organizer Frank Kenyon. "We don’t think there’s any other choice. When you have 40 fishermen trying to get arrested, something has to be wrong somewhere."

At issue is the Cooperative’s long-standing insistence on being able to export less expensive fish products outside jurisdiction of the FFMC, a federal agency with the mandate to buy and sell all commercial fish in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and parts of northwestern Ontario.

All fish caught by commercial fishers must be sent to the FFMC's processing plant in Transcona. The agency is funded solely by the money it earns by selling the fish. About three-quarters of all fish processed by the FFMC is caught by Manitoba fishermen.

Kenyon expects that some 40 fishermen will gather in Dauphin, outside the office of federal MP Bob Sopuck (Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette) before heading off to Yorkton, where they plan to donate the fish to a food bank, then get a receipt.

When Kenyon was asked if he thought the ploy would result in arrests, he replied: "I don’t think they will. It will be too much of a mess for them."

The WMM had received permission to sell mullet in November 2010 to a processor in Illinois. But the FFMC reversed that decision in 2011.

Kenyon argues that markets in the U.S., China and South Africa will pay up to three times the price the FFMC pays for "rough fish", which include lower-quality fish such as mullet.

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