• Jim Mosher

Province decides to ‘gut’ Lake Winnipeg commercial fishers; destroy storied lake fishery

Updated: Mar 15, 2019

Commercial fishers Chris Kristjanson and Kris Isfeld, right, at a meeting in January 2017. Isfeld says the province's regulatory changes announced Monday will destroy the commercial fishery.

— Jim Mosher File Photo

Dear Editor:

After promising communication, collaboration and increased effort to collect all relevant data, the Province of Manitoba and Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires reneged on all its promises, and unilaterally decided to impose crushing changes upon commercial fishers, without a single effort to communicate with them.

On March 11, 2019, the Province announced a change of minimum allowable mesh size on all areas of Lake Winnipeg, effective November 2019. The Province did not once consult with, nor discuss this decision with any commercial fishers. They did however discuss and formulate this decision in collusion with opponents of the commercial fishery, individual and small groups who erroneously believe they will benefit financially from the suppression and subsequent demise of the commercial fishery.

The Province (Minister) claims that this decision was made due to “early warning signs” of potential sustainability issues. The truth is no such issues nor ‘warning signs’ exist.

The only evidence of sustainability issues is the false data being created and delivered to the Province by a very small group of individuals interested in seeing the demise and destruction of the commercial fishery. The Province and the Minister’s decision to unilaterally “gut” the commercial fishery — without even fully understanding the implications — indicates that they are clearly engaging in collusion with their small group of friends to harm the fishery and the fishers.

The Province and Minister claim this drastic change is necessary, yet they have never ever consulted with a single fisher before imposing this change. They have ignored and dismissed 125-plus years of history, that includes the 3” fishery throughout its entirety. They have ignored the thousands of years of experience represented by the present day commercial fishers who unanimously agree that this change is not only unnecessary, but will destroy the commercial fishery.

The Province (and Minister Squires) has chosen to willfully ignore the massive amounts of data that clearly suggest that this change is completely unnecessary, reckless and crippling. They have completely failed to consider the implications of this drastic change. The ignored data and immediate implications are listed below.

There is no evidence that this change is necessary. Walleye catches are stable and currently climbing, and well within the ‘average catch volumes’ for the past 50-plus years. All evidence shows that all fish stocks of all other species are stable as well. Only “alarmist propaganda individuals” with an agenda to harm the commercial fishery are saying otherwise, using cherry-picked, minute pieces of data, along with unreliable (fabricated) data from nearly a century ago to create fear, misinformation, and this knee-jerk reactionary mesh size change.

This mesh size change will:

* Eliminates sauger from the commercial harvest. Sauger makes up a high percentage of the more ‘local’ market (Manitoba). Sold as Baby Pickerel, sauger is the most desirable product locally, and represents most locally sold (stores/restaurants) pickerel. ‘Pickerel and Baby Pickerel’ as you know it, will cease to be available locally.

* Eliminates perch, tulibee and goldeye entirely from the commercial harvest. All are significant contributors to the commercial fishery economy. Tulibee roe has been a significant economic contributor in the most recent years. Stocks are incredibly strong. This mesh size change eliminates that catch. Smoked Goldeye will disappear immediately.

* Three-inch and 3 1/4” mesh nets, and the fish they produce, represent 80-90% of all commercial fishing effort and catch in the South Basin of Lake Winnipeg for the past 100-plus years. This fishery has thrived primarily on the 3” net, and has never failed in more than years. Eliminating a commercial fisher’s ability to use a tool that represents 80-90% of his/her historical income is beyond reasonable. It is crippling and irresponsible. It is akin to asking a carpenter to build a house, while taking away his hammer and saw.

* Eighty to 90% of all commercial fishers’ nets are 3" to 3 1/4” mesh size. They are all rendered illegal, useless. Replacing all these nets with ones that conform to the Province’s new size regulation will be a financial burden for every fisher, impossible for many. Many fishers (unaware of the Province’s sinister secretive plans) have recently spent thousands of dollars upgrading their small mesh net inventory .... money wasted. Many have also recently purchased new quota, a significant investment expense — all with the intent of harvesting Sauger, Baby Pickerel, Goldeye, Tulibee, Tulibee Roe.

* The “hundreds of thousands” of small walleye, sauger, goldeye,...all the small fish, that have been harvested annually for the past 100-plus years, with this mesh size change, will be left in the lake for an additional two to three years before being large enough to be harvested. This will create a sudden massive increase in demand of ‘feed’ .... minnows, young, small hatchlings. The commercial fishery has remained extraordinarily steady for decades, annually harvesting millions of pounds of small predator fish. This harvest has artificially ensured that there is always an abundant, positive ratio of feed available for the remaining predators.

The mesh size change will create a “crash” in the feed stock, resulting in the starving death of massive amounts of mature fish. This mesh size change will cause the death of the fish, the death of the commercial fishery, and the death of the recreational fishery. All as a result of incredibly irresponsible unilateral action of an uninformed, misguided Government.

The Lake Winnipeg fishery has been stable for 100-plus years with the current mesh size structure. Lake Manitoba (the model upon which this change is based) has constantly and regularly crashed, and then boomed, and then crashed again. Lake Manitoba is NOT recognized as a consistent, long standing, successful commercial and recreational fishery. Lake Winnipeg is.

The commercial fishery has thrived for over 100 years. Lake Winnipeg SUBSEQUENTLY became a world renowned angling destination. Trust this Government to throw all that away. And they start that process by ‘gutting’ the hard-working commercial fisher. Disgusting.

Minister Squires should immediately contact all commercial fishers, and correct this disgusting attack on these honest hard-working people and their families.

More data, charts, and evidence that show strengthening, stable fish stocks for all species in Lake Winnipeg are readily available. The Province, the Minister, and the opponents of the commercial fishery refuse to acknowledge the truth. This change is unnecessary, crippling, immoral and irresponsible.

Kris Isfeld,

Area 2 Commercial Fisher

This chart shows Lake Winnipeg South Basin delivered catch for the past 18 years. Evidence of the fishery crashing? You be the judge.

— Submitted by Kris Isfeld

Editor's Note: This chart captures data compiled by the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation. The Winnipeg-based Crown corporation continues to receive commercially-caught fish harvested in Lake Winnipeg's South Basin. The FFMC was created as a sole marketer of fish under the Freshwater Fish Marketing Act (1969). The provincial government opted out of the Act in 2016, thus allowing commercial fishers to market their harvest elsewhere. Many South Basin fishers, the chart shows, continue to deliver to Freshwater.

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