Report gives next steps to inland fishery transition

Interim committee dismissed a proposal for a First Nations-led fish marketing entity, says AMC

In 2019, the federal government appointed an interlocutor to assess the possibility of transitioning the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation to a harvester-led model.

Fishery leaders have shown the interest and capacity to transition the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC) to a harvester-led marketing organization, according to a federal report released January 21.

“The end structure of the FFMC has not been finalized, however, I look forward to working with the interim committee, and all harvesters, to explore this harvester-led model,” said Bernadette Jordan, minister of fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, in a news release.

The FFMC is a Crown corporation which has exclusive right to market and trade freshwater fish in interprovincial and export markets, the news release says. Manitoba withdrew from FFMC about four years ago, a move celebrated by many Interlake fishers.

In 2019, the federal government appointed Kevin G. Anderson as an interlocutor to assess the possibility of transitioning the FFMC to a harvester-led model.

Anderson released the report after consultations with fish harvesters, communities and Indigenous communities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories.

Anderson reports fishers were open to the idea of a harvester-led fish-marketing entity. “Low-volume harvesters,” particularly in northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan worried they won’t have sufficient access to buyers without FFMC support.

Fisher harvesters in more centralized areas have begun to organize themselves to deal with regional fisheries management issues, the report says.

The report says some people felt they should build on the current FFMC instead of seeking alternative buyers for their fish. Some fishers said those who deal with alternative buyers sometimes face lower prices or have contracts fall through.

Anderson briefly notes that he met with several Indigenous groups including the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Manitoba Métis Federation and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimankanak.

“First Nations groups were concerned with maintaining and respecting Section 25 fishing rights as well as the economic and social opportunities provided to their communities through commercial fishing,” Anderson writes.

Indigenous groups highlighted fish prices and changes resulting from climate change as challenges.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs presented a proposal for the transfer and operation of the FFMC to a First Nations-led entity, says an AMC news release from January 21.

The report acknowledged this but said the proposal “lacked sufficient information.”

AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said he was disappointed by the report, as the AMC had been assured due consideration for its proposal.

“Over the last 3-1/2 years, we have worked tirelessly toward this goal by establishing a team of very experienced fisheries executives, industry experts and a consortium of inland fishers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and the NWT to develop a comprehensive proposal to present to the federal interlocutor and the interim committee,” said Dumas.

“I would like to know what this lack of information was,” Dumas said, saying the AMC proposal was “comprehensive” and a “shovel-ready” process for implementing First Nations’ treaty right to fish.

Anderson also met with an interim committee of fishery leaders formed to oversee the Crown corporation’s transition to a harvester-led group.

Anderson concluded that “members have demonstrated that they are willing to lead their part in the viable transformation of the FFMC into a harvester-led co-operative. Moreover, they have the capacity to do so.”

Based on his findings, Anderson recommended three actions to the federal government.

First, that it should announce its commitment to working with the interim committee to pursue a transition to the harvester-led model.

It must help the committee secure administrative and technical advisory support.

It should provide the resources and commitment to move the negotiation and industry co-ordination forward. This should include setting a timeline for the negotiation process including a “sunset date,” which Anderson suggests should be one year after the necessary support is given.

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