Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fisher could have been paid $16,000 for his 'wasted fish'

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I am dismayed to see the recent stories in the Winnipeg Free Press about the commercial fishing industry in Manitoba, specifically the issue of usable fish going to waste (Want not, waste lot, April 20).

Your story featured commercial fisher Frank Kenyon -- an outspoken critic who represents a small minority of regional fishers.

The article focused on the notion that Kenyon and other commercial fishers just like him are forced to waste perfectly good fish because Freshwater won't buy it at a fair price.

Kenyon maintains that it's not financially worth his effort to ship his mullet to Freshwater Fish for purchase.

I -- along with dozens of other fishers -- disagree with both his sentiments and the potentially catastrophic approach this article took to one-sidedly presenting a contentious topic.

Freshwater has a strong market for mullet and a limited supply of this fish in inventory. It is an ideal situation for fishers selling their mullet to Freshwater.

Because the mullet market was strong this winter, Saskatchewan and Manitoba fishers shipped thousands of kilograms to Winnipeg for sale and received top-tier prices. Most of these fishers live farther away from Winnipeg than Kenyon and have to pay higher freight charges due to their location, lowering their price per kilogram accordingly.

Contrary to Kenyon's claims, these fishers find it quite profitable to sell their mullet to Freshwater.

Kenyon's choice to leave his mullet on the lake as by-catch is just that -- his choice.

Why he opted to leave the perfectly saleable mullet there for animals to consume on the day your reporter and photographer visited is beyond me. That day (and all winter for that matter), Freshwater was buying mullet at $0.80 per kilogram. Based on Kenyon's estimation of leaving 20,000 kilograms of mullet unsold, he could have this winter received $16,000 (less freight costs of $1,700 to $3,200 dependent on delivery point) for this wasted fish.

It is true that some species are not currently processed at our Winnipeg plant, but the reason is either because there is no market for it today (carp) or, in the case of burbot, because processing would interfere with the plant's Kosher certification. The Kosher market is very important for the price stability of mullet.

But as president and CEO John Wood indicates, if burbot were to become as important as mullet, Freshwater would find a way to process it.

Competition for the centre-of-plate protein position in world markets is intense and ever-changing.

Freshwater competes with seafood, poultry, pork, beef and many other options on the plates of consumers. Freshwater has found many ways to add value and stay competitive, but the best way is to rebuild volume and continue finding economies of scale, seeking out new markets and maintaining its impeccable food safety record.

After 43 years, Freshwater has built a highly trusted and regarded brand on the global market. I believe working together is the best way to keep Canada's inland commercial fishing industry alive and well.

David Tomasson is chairman of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corp.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 11, 2013 A17

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