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  • Jim Mosher

Province attacks Manitobans who eat local fish, anglers included: commercial fisher writes

American trophy hunters are more valued by province


Anglers parked on the western shore of Lake Winnipeg at Warner Rd. are getting set to leave. Many come from the northern United States to catch the famous greenback 'trophy'. Increasingly, as anglers fish for the prized trophy and drop lots of money in local communities, commercial fishers are being forgotten, long-time Lake Winnipeg commercial fisher Kris Isfeld suggests in this letter.


Dear Editor:


Recently you may have read about massive changes to the Lake Winnipeg Commercial Fishery. The Provincial Department of Sustainable Development recently announced a quota buyback, and a mesh size change, that dramatically affects Lake Winnipeg commercial fishers. But if you are not a commercial fisher, these provincial announcements likely don’t affect you...right?


Well, maybe....unless you like to eat fish.


Perhaps you don't buy local fish from the fishers, or stores, or eat them in restaurants. (We'll get back to that later). Perhaps you like to go out with the kids, with fishing rods in hand, and catch some nice “eaters” to fry up a fresh supper. Well, that’s going to be a whole lot more difficult.


The most abundant, easiest, tastiest fish caught near shore by anglers looking for a meal, is sauger. Now, due to this latest announcement, most of those sauger that are caught will have to be thrown back. A 35-cm minimum catch and release size has been introduced for both sauger and walleye, a decision that results in (1.) Less fish being legally eligible to be eaten, and (2.) More fish being needlessly, accidentally killed, in the pursuit of larger allowable “keepers”.


If you’ve ever dropped a hook near shore, and caught sauger, you are aware that the vast majority of these fish caught are smaller that 35 cm. That is the size of a full grown sauger. These small fish are aggressive eaters, and often swallow hooks deep, making them notoriously difficult to release undamaged and alive.


The province’s recent announcement has just made it illegal to eat those fish, regardless of how deeply hooked they are. Don’t even try. You will be charged with massive fines and “restitution” — an arbitrary fee charged to you for “damaging the future of the fish stocks”.


Ironic, given the following ... Instead, you MUST now throw that dead or dying fish back in the lake immediately. This “action by the province to enhance sustainability” will actually result in more fish being needlessly killed and wasted. Does that make any sense to you?


Proponents of this change will tell you it is necessary due to “dwindling sauger stocks”. That is a blatant lie. The province has not released any data supporting this change. They are afraid to because their data is blatantly wrong. No believable, reasonable data exists.


One quote by a proponent of this change has said that sauger have been “96% extirpated from Lake Winnipeg”. That figure is easily demonstrably proven to be false, as it compares fictional catch record numbers supplied by the province from the 1940s (when no such records were kept) to a recent year, when 0% Commercial Harvest effort was directed at sauger, and the volume of sauger that was harvested, was erroneously recorded as walleye. 96% extirpated? Embarrassing “science” spewed by a university professor clearly unaware of the actual facts.


Sauger stocks are strong as ever. Go fishing with a pickerel rig, you’ll see.


Catch and Release Angling has always been promoted by the province as a “sustainable” practice. Catch and keep ...the act of actually “fishing for food” has never been encouraged, but has generally been tolerated. Not anymore.


Perhaps it is time to restart the discussion about fishing for food, or fishing for fun. Catch and Release is in reality neither “sustainable” nor “ethical”.


‘Sustainable’ is today’s ‘cool catch phrase’. Even McDonalds is advertising “sustainable hamburgers” on TV … whatever that is supposed to mean. Maybe ‘ethical’ should be tomorrow’s message.


Is it ethical to fish for food? Is it ethical to have to throw back dozens of hooked fish before catching one the government deems big enough to eat?


Is it ethical for a government to say ‘catching and torturing fish strictly for entertainment is MORE important to our economy than catching fish for food? Because that IS what this government is saying.


With this announced change, people, families looking to catch supper … who catch sauger after sauger after sauger, are forced to ‘release’ potentially every single one, not be able to cook a meal, and in the process, needlessly kill countless fish. Studies show that 43% of ‘catch and released’ fish die within 24 hours of release. The numbers for sauger are likely higher than that.


This sounds like a really bad idea right? Obviously, no one who cares about using fish as ‘food’ would agree with this change. So who would dream up such a plan? People who ‘fish for food’ were not invited to the discussion.


Trophy Hunters. And the handful of Outfitters who are profiting from them. That is who is currently running our provincial ‘Department of Sustainable Development’. The director of SD is past president of the Manitoba Wildlife Federation. It’s a tight group. ‘Department of Sustainable Development’ should be renamed the ‘Department of Sustainable Trophy Hunting for Walleye’… that is the only people they are working for. Not for the majority of Manitobans. Not for sustainable fish stocks and fisheries.


This list of announced changes to the both the Recreational and Commercial fisheries has absolutely nothing to do with sustainability. The data does not support it. The province continues to refuse to release any of their data that they claim does support it. Suspicious?


This list of announced changes is a wish list of changes, created by a small group of Outfitters, Manitoba Wildlife Federation, and one or two departmental employees who wish to see the Commercial Fishery, and the use of fish for food, diminished and/or destroyed.

Trophy hunters only.


Lake Winnipeg, despite successfully feeding millions of people for over 100 years, shall from this day forward be managed solely for the purpose of entertaining American anglers. That is more valuable than food. Period.


A handful of people will get rich off this. The American Trophy Hunters will support it. And after all, aren’t they more important than us lowly locals?


Oh, and if you don’t go angling, and would rather just buy your local fish … as of November 1st, you likely won't be able to. The Trophy Hunters have, by way of unilaterally forcing a drastic, crippling mesh size change, succeeded in effectively shutting down the Lake Winnipeg Commercial Fishery.


I hope you like ocean fish.


Write a letter. Contact your MLA.


Sincerely,

Kris Isfeld, commercial fisher