The monopoly that has controlled the sale of fish in Manitoba since 1969 will soon be cast aside by the Pallister government.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/8/2016 (1733 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The monopoly that has controlled the sale of fish in Manitoba since 1969 will soon be cast aside by the Pallister government.

Making good on a campaign promise to give fishers more options when it comes to selling their catch, the government announced Tuesday it will withdraw its participation in the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corp.

"Our government will be pursuing consultation with all affected partners including the federal government, the commercial fishing industry as well as indigenous and Métis fishers from all regions of the province," provincial Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox in a news release. "This collaborative approach will ensure that Manitoba fishers have a seat at the table as we make progress on delivering marketing choice."

The Tories vowed during the April election campaign to give commercial fishers the "freedom to make their own individual marketing decisions" about their catch.

The federal Crown corporation is required to buy, process and market all freshwater fish offered to it by fishers in Manitoba. Those opposed to the single-desk marketer say its practice of only purchasing a handful of commercially viable species such as walleye limits the market options for fishers.

The Crown corporation will continue to exist as a marketing option for those fishers who choose to use its services, the news release states.

Amanda Stevenson, president of WMM Fisheries Co-operative Ltd., called the government’s decision "unbelievably exciting."

"The economic opportunity for the fishermen in the province being able to sell outside of the monopoly — I can’t overstate it. It’s tremendous," she said. "We’re talking millions and millions and millions of dollars of sales that are possible now."

But others in the industry, such as fisherman Robert Kristjanson, aren’t so pleased. Based out of Gimli, Kristjanson’s family has been in the fishing business since 1891. He’s dealt with fish companies before the FFMC in 1969, and said "nothing has changed" since then.

"It is so sad that I can’t even put words to it," said Kristjanson, speaking of the province’s withdrawal from the corporation. "I’m not saying (it) has been true blue... but to add more fish companies to this is not the answer."

He said he’ll continue to sell his fish through the Crown corporation.

Rob Altemeyer, the NDP MLA for Wolseley and the critic for Environment and Green Jobs, compared the situation to the dissolving of the Canadian Wheat Board, adding it might make it tougher for smaller, independent fishers to sell their catch.

"If you are a small, independent fisher, how on Earth are you going to get your fish to another part of Canada all on your own?," he said. "Our questions right now are: how do we make sure that the fishery stays sustainable, and how do you make sure that all fishers — no matter how big or how small they are, where they’re located in the province — that all of them are going to benefit from this?"

Stevenson said most individual fishers belong to local groups, co-ops and associations that originally all worked together to sell their fish to the Crown corporation. She said fishers can now work together on a community or regional basis to sell larger quantities.

"They opportunities are tremendous; they’re really, really excellent," she said.

Stevenson said she understands why people may be concerned about this change, but she said she’s "confident that the people who are concerned right now, as they understand what’s possible, that they’ll lose their fear and understand the opportunity."

A fisheries envoy will be assigned by the Pallister government to oversee the process of opting out of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Act.

"Today’s announcement is a victory for Manitoba fishers, one that will allow them to compete more effectively in the world’s seafood market," MLA Rick Wowchuk, the legislative assistant for Sustainable Development, said in the news release. "Manitoba fish products are world-class, and our government is confident the creation of flexibility in how our fishers market their product will allow them to maximize the economic potential of an open market."

Chief Ron Evans of Norway House Cree Nation said the move will give the local co-op the opportunity to explore selling rough fish to foreign markets.

Under the single-desk system, fish such as carp are purchased at a very low price because there is no large-scale market for the catch.

"We have been exploring options as of late, especially opportunities to sell rough fish to foreign markets. We look forward to working with the Department of Sustainable Development in developing a process that will provide the necessary supports and resources to create an efficient, viable and successful flexible option model. In the meantime, the Norway House Fisherman’s Co-op will maintain its relationship with and continue to work through the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corp., which has provided stability and security for our fishers," Evans said in the news release.

The co-op consists of nearly 50 full-time commercial fishers and produces a quota of nearly one million kilograms each year.

kristin.annable@freepress.mb.caalexandra.depape@freepress.mb.ca