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Fisher rewrites tax law

Pushing governments for same fuel-levy exemption as farmers

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You could say he's fishing for changes, but will it fuel government action?

A Lake Winnipeg commercial fisherman has taken it upon himself to rewrite the Manitoba Fuel Tax Act in an effort to bring attention to the differences in fuel costs between fishers and farmers.

In his revised version, he's given fishers the same exemption from fuel taxes farmers receive.

"We have a huge fish-transportation problem in Manitoba," said Bill Buckels, the Gimli fisherman who penned the revised act. "It's not like the Great Lakes where everyone is close to the water."

The approximately 160 licensed commercial fishers in the Gimli area deliver their catch to the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corp. in Selkirk each day. The fuel used in transportation is not eligible for "purple gas" tax exemptions given to farm vehicles.

Purple gas is a tax-exempt fuel used in Western Canada that gets its name from the coloured dyes used to identify which fuel is to be sold with the lower taxes. It's used mainly in farm equipment.

'We deserve parity with other food producers'

-- Bill Buckels

"We deserve parity with other food producers," said Buckels.

Currently, the fuel used by fishing vehicles is subject to a 24 per cent excise tax from which farm vehicles are exempt.

"Even our fishing nets, which are petroleum products, receive a humongous tax."

Buckels, who's been fishing on Lake Winnipeg for 10 years, said vehicle fuel prices can eat up more than 10 per cent of a fisher's income.

"In the States they can't fish for pickerel, so they buy a lot of ours," said Buckels. "That's where most of the pickerel is going."

However, the expensive transportation cost is making it hard for Manitoba fishers to compete in U.S. markets.

Buckels said giving freshwater fishers the same fuel-tax exemption as farmers shouldn't disrupt the current fish market.

"We're not creating market distortion; this is a niche market," he said. "This is centre-of-the-plate fish. It's high-end restaurant food."

Buckels said he's tried to get the province and the federal government to listen before, but they still aren't biting.

He said federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea "never responds" and MLA Gord Mackintosh, the provincial minister of conservation and water stewardship, hasn't been any help.

"I met with Gord Mackintosh before sending the letter," said Buckels. "He knew it was coming but, especially now that it's 2014, they don't want to do anything controversial that won't get them some votes."

He said no level of government has put money toward freshwater fishing.

"Until very recently, there was machinery made of wood still being used."

Buckels said he hopes his revised Manitoba Fuel Tax Act will get the attention of both the federal and provincial governments.

"What I hope to do through this is push Shea and Macintosh to the table, get them talking at least."

Mackintosh's Conservation office received an email from Buckels on New Year's Eve. Provincial spokeswoman Rachel Morgan said Buckels will, at the very least, be given a response.

Morgan said purple gas is already available to some vehicles used by freshwater fishers.

"Manitoba also provides commercial fishers a fuel-tax exemption by allowing them to use purple gas in their outboard motors, snowmobiles or other tracked vehicles," she said.

As for remote northern commercial fisheries, Morgan said they're assisted through the Northern Fishermen's Freight Assistance program, which currently offsets transportation costs by $400,000 for pike, lake trout, perch, goldeye and tullibee.

Buckels' pickerel in Lake Winnipeg don't quite make the cut.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 3, 2014 A6

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