A hundred or more Métis commercial fishers are expected today in Winnipeg to discuss the future of the province’s freshwater fishery.
The day-long meeting called by the Manitoba Metis Federation follows a foray into the open market that left four Manitoba fisheries reporting they were left nearly $1 million in the hole this winter.
Métis fishers are critical of what they call the hasty rollout of a Pallister government decision to pull the province out of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC) and open up the market to private sales.
"The system doesn’t work the way it was set up. There was no plan when the government opened the market up, no strategy, nothing in place, no transition for the fishermen," Duck Bay fisher John Parenteau said Monday on the eve of the summit.
A election promise by Premier Brian Pallister to open up Manitoba’s fishery was enacted through provincial legislation Dec. 1, 2017, allowing the province’s estimated 1,400 commercial fishers, the majority of whom are First Nation or Métis, to either work with the FFMC or sell their catch privately.
The four groups of fishers — Dawson Bay Fish Packers, Eddystone Fisheries Co-op, Ashern Fisheries Co-op and Waterhen Winter Fisheries — negotiated private sales, but reported last month they were owed anywhere from $750,000 to $1 million on the deal. Parenteau, who is also the MMF fisheries minister, said about 100 fishers were affected, and they are expected to turn out for the day-long meeting at a Polo Park-area hotel.
At the same time, local fishers aren’t happy with the FFMC, either.
The MMF, which represents the province’s 100,000 Métis, believe the monopoly created by the federal Crown corporation hasn’t done any favours for the industry. Sales and processing were exclusively handled by the corporation for decades, up until the province pulled Manitoba out with its open-market decision.
"Freshwater fish is the last surviving traditional economy of our people. We must ensure it survives and that’s why we called this meeting," MMF president David Chartrand said in a recent interview.
He said he intended to float the concept that Métis fishers form a collective co-operative to handle sales on the open market.
"We need to educate fishers they can’t operate (alone) amongst themselves. You can’t have an agent find a buyer and survive. The industry will eat them up," Chartrand said.
The FFMC declined an interview on the Métis meeting. A woman, who identified herself as an assistant to the current interim president, said 98 per cent of the province’s commercial fishers have signed contracts to have the Crown corporation handle sales since word of the private-market setback became public. Parenteau and Chartrand said fishers signed up with the marketing corporation out of desperation and every one of them who signed up late paid a penalty. "The fishermen are locked into these contracts which we’re forced into because we have no buyers," Parenteau said.
A provincial fisheries report, released last March, also called for private buyers to be bonded, as a way to protect the financial interests of the fishers. That wasn’t done, critics said.
If the MMF gains the support of the industry to move forward with a co-operative, Chartrand said it would ultimately mean breaking free of the marketing corporation altogether.
Alexandra believes every story has a life of its own with a heartbeat and body and legs. She’ll probe for a pulse and check out its shape from every which way, until she feels it and sees it. So be patient with her. She can be exasperating.