• Jim Mosher

Fisher pens open letter to SD Minister Squires

A ceremony at Gimli Harbour Aug. 16, 2016 ushered in the bold new world of marketing choice for Manitoba's commercial fishers. Many welcomed the move, which had been among the campaign promises of Brian Pallister whose party won government April 2016.

The blush seems be off the rose, as fishers contend with the regulatory and other implications a new way of marketing entail.

— Jim Mosher file photo

March 13, 2019

Eric Benson,

Petersfield, MB

Hon. Rochelle Squires

Minister of Sustainable Development

Room 344 Legislative Building

450 Broadway

Winnipeg, MB R3C 0V8

Re: Lake Winnipeg Fishery Co-Management Board “Collaboration”

Dear Minister Squires,

I reference we (fishers), many times throughout this letter. Although I may not speak for every fisher, I speak for the majority of them when you renege on something you indicated would occur, to our face in meetings thus recorded as such in the minutes, and by blatantly ignoring the “terms of reference” of the Lake Winnipeg Fishery Co-Management Board.

We met at the Lake Winnipeg Fishery Co-Management Board meeting this past November/18. I was the individual that indicated to you that we (fishers), “as a group”, were very reluctant anything would come from having you there for we felt you were already given your marching orders from above (and elsewhere), including outside influence from the Manitoba Wildlife Federation (MWF), which included Scott Forbes and his relentless goal of painting a picture of “crisis” on Lake Winnipeg with his “cherrypicked” statistics and own personal agenda (much of which has been brilliantly rebutted by many fishers yet completely ignored).

We (fishers), were pleasantly surprised for you gave the impression that you were in fact not going to be influenced by external parties nor Mr. Forbes and you were going to include fishers accordingly pertaining to potential decisions that affect Lake Winnipeg and fishers in general. Same “goal” for everyone, was and always will be ... to protect Lake Winnipeg and still sustain the commercial fishing industry, and all activities (ie: anglers, recreation, etc.), including applicable balances to ensure this occurs. In said meeting with you this past November, we (fishers), were under the impression we were able to clear up a few misconceptions other areas and/or individuals (ie: Scott Forbes – University of Winnipeg, and some internal intel from the Manitoba Sustainable Development Department), were

providing you, your office, and the public. This was a tad difficult to accomplish as we identified members of your Dept that were/are in fact feeding you some of this misleading information.

Regardless, you had mentioned several times that day back in November that you were going to work “collaboratively” with fishers and that you “respect” our knowledge and input especially due to the fact the fishers in the room had over 1,200 years of fishing experience amongst them alone.

Fast forward to March 2019 and the news release, “Province Takes Steps to Address Sustainability for Lake Winnipeg Fishery”. Although much of that information is concerning, I’m going to narrow it down to the most important issue, “collaboration”, or in this case, lack thereof for it would appear your proposed changes are a foregone conclusion.

Within that news release, the following comments are what I wish to address (quotes in bold and my response underneath):

“The province will be consulting fishers on other sustainable regulation measures, including net minimum sizes and recreational angling minimum length retention limit. A 30-day consultation period will begin immediately.”

To this, we (fishers) wish to know what this means exactly? You’ll be “consulting” the fishers over the next 30 days? None of us were even made aware of your “proposed” changes that you’ve already made public, then to add a 30-day “deadline” for us to be “consulted” with?

To whom exactly are you contacting to arrange applicable “consultation” with already media released “proposals”? Again, to be 100% clear, absolutely no “collaboration” occurred with the fishers and yourself Minister Squires (nor your Dept). If the actual intent was to work “collaboratively”, would this not occur prior to releasing to the media? In fact, it’s clear the impression to many (including fishers), is that your proposed changes are non-negotiable, therefore how is this working “collaboratively”?

“This government recognizes the value of listening and finding better ways of doing things in partnership. A shared science and knowledge approach will generate information we all have confidence in and provide a strong foundation for shared management of our 'treasured” Lake Winnipeg fishery.”

To this, we (fishers), are unclear of what you consider defined as “listening” and doing things in “partnership” for we were never “consulted” on this prior to you making this public. This by no means gives us the impression we are being “listened” too, or there’s any “partnership” in place, nor have we been given the opportunity to “share” our own fishing science via thousands of years of fishing experience at your fingertips to assist with “managing” our “treasured” Lake Winnipeg fishery.

Please be advised that most fishers feel privileged to be “fishers” and want to ensure all our lakes remain productive now and moving forward, thus to feel the need to make these changes without any “collaboration” with the fishers, gives the impression that you’re not doing so because you feel we would challenge “change” and that fishers do not care about the lakes. This may not be your intention, however this is what is being perceived elsewhere, including fishers and the public.

It’s this exact negative perception that makes fishers out to be the enemy when in fact the fishers are trying to “collaborate” but never given the opportunity to do so, in fact we’re blatantly ignored. This is beyond comprehension and not the way to conduct business with a group that’s been trying to meet and provide information and data to counter-point what others are providing you.

As a reminder, we’re a “volunteer” group, and when we spend hours upon hours creating documentation, stats, emails, attending meetings, etc., we are not getting compensated to do so.

“The minister has announced the Lake Winnipeg Fisheries Co-management Board spring meeting will feature a collaborative science and adaptive management workshop.”

This spring meeting date has not been set and would be after said “30-day consultation period”. To this, we (fishers), are unclear why we wouldn’t have met to discuss this prior to the news release? We (fishers), are also unclear what you define as “collaborative” when we continue to be ignored and again, were not “consulted” on any of these suggested changes, as you promised you would do, and have actually indicated publicly you have done so when in fact you haven’t consulted with the fishers at all regarding your supposed data.

We (fishers), would also like to identify a few comments from the proposed changes: “Lake Winnipeg Measures to Enhance Sustainability”:

“Manitoba is proposing implementing a minimum gillnet size of 3.75 inches (95mm) stretched mesh....”

“These changes are expected to be implemented by November 1, 2019 for the opening of the Lake Winnipeg winter commercial season.”

When reading the first quote, it gives the impression it’s a “proposal”, thus still in the “perhaps” phase, however when reading the second quote, it reads “expected”. This by no means appears, or gives the impression of “consultation” nor “collaboration”, and also gives the distinct impression this is already a “done deal”.

To this, we (fishers), are unclear why we were never granted an audience with you to discuss your “intentions” on something this important (when you clearly indicated you would). Again, you indicated in our meeting back in Nov/18, on the record, in the minutes, that you would work “collaboratively” with the fishers, yet it would appear this is not the case and perhaps you were only telling us what you thought we wanted to hear. We (fishers), find this insulting, would you not feel the same if in reverse?

Speaking of reverse, let’s hit that reverse button and in January of this year, Mr. Kris Isfeld (Lake Winnipeg Area 2 Fisher Rep), sent you an informative email identifying such things as public attacks on the Commercial Fishing Industry, including from members of your own Department (Sustainable Development), misleading data/facts that were provided to you, and identifying information that specifically indicated he had made several attempts to meet with Rob Olson, the Department, and the MWF and all attempts were and continue to be ignored.

Mr. Isfeld also indicated/reminded you (as we identified this in detail to you in our Nov/18 meeting), that no attempts have been made to communicate with fishers. Essentially Mr. Isfeld officially advised you in writing that several individuals within your department were providing “selected” data/statistics that clearly do not outline the entire picture, and in doing so, have their own agenda. We (fishers), understand you would want to protect your Department and the individuals within it, however in doing so, you’re opening yourself up for that same perception.

That’s unfortunate for we (fishers), felt that at the November meeting, you were going to “listen” to us, and work “collaboratively” with us (again, as was/should be indicated in the minutes), to which we (fishers), encouraged complete transparency as we (fishers), feel that if you and your Department did in fact “listen” to the fishers and their thousands of years of combined experience, these knee jerk reactions wouldn’t occur, especially on the media stage with again, absolutely no “collaboration” or “partnership” with the fishers.

In fact, your personal response to Mr. Isfeld’s email reflected the following:

“I would like to assure you that our government is committed to sustainable management of

Manitoba’s fisheries. This will necessarily involve building a consensus between all stakeholders, including commercial fishers, anglers, and my department, on the state of the lake and then discussing ways of moving forward together.”

To this, we (fishers) are unclear what you mean by “building a consensus” and “THEN discussing ways of moving forward TOGETHER”? I’ve capped the “THEN” and “TOGETHER”, for by no means was a consensus built prior to “discussing ways of moving forward together”.

You’ve bypassed the fishers completely (again), and released your intentions “expected to be implemented by November 1, 2019” without any “collaboration” with the fishers.

On a quick note regarding one of the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act, pertaining to angling. It’s being proposed that anglers would be required to release walleye/sauger under a certain length. So we’re on the same page, approximately 43% of hooked fish die within six days anyway, so you’ve already condemned those fish regardless. This is a perfect example of how a “proposed” change may look as though it’s doing something “on paper”, however those fish are going to die anyway. Food for thought...or perhaps “fish” for thought.

In Jim Mosher’s recent article, he asked you about the data you used to support the position that the harvest is not sustainable. Your response was as follows:

“Our department has worked collaboratively with other user groups” (referencing environmental groups and the Dept of Fisheries and Oceans); “We work very collaboratively with other stakeholders to come up with what we think would be a long-term sustainable yield.”

That’s wonderful that you’ve worked “collaboratively” with the above, we (fishers) would like to know why you didn’t with us? As you indicated you would in our Nov/18 meeting?

We’re not suggesting nor implying you need to work from our data alone. All we’ve ever requested is that our input is part of the “mix” pertaining to how you decide to proceed. Unfortunately this did not occur and we were once again completely ignored. We (fishers), are unclear how this can continue without any accountability for you’re making decisions without all the facts.

In that same Mosher article, you indicated:

“Their data certainly does back up our data. We have our data from our staff and others through our index netting.” and that they are “figures that many people agree on”.

We (fishers), indicated in our meeting with you back in Nov/18, that certain data, explained and presented in various ways can support what they want supported, and when explained differently, present a completely different picture (many variables to account for regarding data/statistics). You yourself agreed on this and that you would work “collaboratively” with the fishers to ensure this misconception of data would not occur.

Unfortunately, it would appear this wasn’t followed through with, plus you’ve accepted data from individuals in your Department that Mr. Isfeld has identified (per above), as staff that do not respond to fishers, nor do they wish to acknowledge any other data than their own, as it may contradict what they’re trying to accomplish.

We (fishers), find that appalling, and so would everyone else if/when provided with all the facts.

Please be advised/reminded that none of us are being paid to act on this, to respond, to round up all the fishers to come up with a plan to address changes you wish to occur without your promised “collaboration”, “partnership”, “consulting”, and so on.

In fact, we (fishers) are having to juggle working long hours on the lake (or other jobs), with continuous attempts to contact the applicable governing bodies, individuals, including the MWF, all of which fall on deaf ears.

We (fishers) can provide proof of countless communication attempts that have been ignored, perhaps it’s time for the public to see us in a different light than what the Sustainable Development Department and the MWF (which seem to be working collaboratively), have painted our picture.

In addition to all this, we (fishers) are required (as we need to defend against slanderous and incorrect information), to attend meetings that seem to be strategically planned during the fishing season when many fishers cannot attend. Although I’m sure you

and your Sustainable Development Department does not do this intentionally, however we (fishers) cannot help but feel otherwise for obvious reasons.

We (fishers), wish that you followed through with the comments you made to many fishers faces back in Nov/18.

We (fishers), trust there’s still hope for this and meeting with the Lake Winnipeg Fishery Co-management Board will occur to discuss these proposed changes (that have already been released to the public), and that they are in fact still “proposals”.

This isn’t the way to conduct business Minister Squires, after-the-fact, however this is once again the hand the fishers have been dealt. We (fishers), hope and trust we all use this time to build (improve) the relationship between all parties that currently is on shady ground per above voluminous documentation/letter (but not limited to by any means).

Minister Squires, please be advised that we (fishers) are not going away, nor will we continue to be ignored.


Eric Benson

Lake Winnipeg Fisher (4th generation)

About Us

The introductory remarks should suffice for now.