A profile of Manitoba's Commercial Fishery

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Manitoba's commercial fishery is an important industry and a major provider of employment in Northern Manitoba and the Interlake. In addition to the direct income to fishers from the fish they sell ($29 million), Manitoba also benefits from annual sales of ~$70 million in value-added processed fish products.

There are about 300 lakes, in addition to Manitoba's three major waterbodies - Lake Winnipeg, Winnipegosis, and Manitoba - listed in the commercial harvest schedule. The schedule lists seasons, limits, and conditions applied to commercial fisheries on each of these lakes. The commercial harvest schedule can be found on the Branch website at: www.gov.mb.ca/sd/waterstewardship/fisheries/regulations/regulations.html. The primary fish species under quota restrictions are Walleye, Sauger, Lake Whitefish, Northern Pike, Goldeye, and Lake Trout.

Although total quota for commercially fished lakes in the province is approximately 13.0 million kgs, significant harvest of non-quota species (e.g. suckers, Common Carp, Cisco) also occurs. Most lake quotas have been set for many years, and were originally based on traditional harvests adjusted by maximum sustainable yield estimates. Most northern lakes have lake quotas; a set number of fishers are licensed and they all fish until the entire lake quota is harvested for the season. Lakes Winnipeg and Winnipegosis have individual quota entitlements (access rights) that fishers may buy and sell. Fishers wishing to buy quota entitlements must meet certain eligibility criteria (residency, fishing experience). The number and size of quotas were originally established based on the number of participants, average harvests, and the total lake quotas at the time of implementation. It should be noted that fishers still must be licensed with individual quotas specified on the licence to use the access rights that they have purchased.

People are fishing in a boat

Fishing seasons are categorized as open water or winter. On Lake Winnipeg, there are actually two specified open water seasons: summer and fall. Opening dates for open water seasons and closing dates for winter fisheries generally are set to limit harvest of spawning and pre-spawning fish aggregations. Additionally, in setting seasonal opening and closing dates, some consideration is given to typical ice freeze-up and break-up times to avoid unsafe ice conditions.

Not all lakes on the schedule are fished every year. Weather conditions, ice breakup and freeze-up, water levels, transportation costs, fish prices, subsidies, and market demand can all affect the fishery and/or a fisher's decision to fish.

People setting line

Between 2009 and 2015, Manitoba's commercial fisheries produced an average of almost 11.4 million kgs of fish annually (Table 1). Walleye comprise the greatest portion of production by weight (46%), followed by Lake Whitefish (19%), Northern Pike (15%), Suckers (12%), and Sauger (3%).

walleye fish

Walleye are also the most valuable species, averaging $16.8 million or 70% of the average landed value of $23.8 million (Table 2). Lake Whitefish comprise the second-highest contribution to total landed value (16%), followed by Northern Pike (5%). Sauger contributes about 4% and Yellow Perch 2% of the total landed value.

Lake Winnipeg is the largest commercial fishery, contributing 57% of the province's total production and 75% of landed value of the harvest (Table 3). Northern lakes contribute 19% of total production and about 13% of landed value.

Over 67% of the total harvest occurs during open water (Table 4). Northern lakes are primarily summer fisheries and 80% of Lake Winnipeg production occurs during open water. However, Lake Manitoba is primarily a winter fishery; summer production is strictly for Common Carp and suckers. Lake Winnipegosis has been commercially fished as both a summer and winter fishery since 1921, with production split fairly evenly between the two seasons. About 99% of production from "Other Lakes" occurs during the winter.

In 2015/2016, 54% of summer production on Lake Winnipeg was Walleye/Sauger; 37% of production was Lake Whitefish (Table 5). Walleye/Sauger comprised 52% and Lake Whitefish 41% of winter production on Lake Winnipeg in 2015/2016. Production on Lake Manitoba in winter 2015/2016 was 41% suckers, .22% Yellow Perch, 15% Walleye/Sauger, and 27% Northern Pike. The Lake Winnipegosis summer fishery produced primarily suckers (44%), Walleye (29%), Northern Pike (17%) and a small amount of Lake Whitefish (7%). The winter fishery produced Northern Pike (47%), suckers/Common Carp (43%), and a small amount of Walleye (6%) and Lake Whitefish (3%).

Northern lakes produced Walleye (29%) Northern Pike (21%), Lake Whitefish (19%), and suckers (22%) in the summer (Table 5). In winter, they produced primarily Northern Pike (51%), suckers (19%), Lake Whitefish (11%), and Walleye (13%).

The importance of commercial fishing to local economies cannot be overstated. An average of 3,000 licensed fishers and hired helpers have been employed annually in commercial fishing in the province (Table 7); 57% of these fishers are employed on Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba's largest fishery.

Over 80 percent of commercially caught fish in Manitoba traditionally have been destined for international markets primarily in the United States and Europe. Of the total value of Manitoba fish exports, 60 % is sales in the USA, 24 % is comprised of sales into European markets, and 16 % is sales within Canada. The majority of Walleye harvested in Manitoba is sold into the United States, primarily into the Midwestern states of Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Illinois; but markets also exist in other parts of Canada, France, Germany, Poland and Belgium. Sauger is generally sold within Canada. The majority of all Northern Pike harvested in Manitoba is sold into Europe, primarily into France, but other markets exist in Poland, Germany, Finland, the United States and China. The majority of Manitoba Lake Whitefish is sold into either the European and American markets.

On August 16, 2016, the government of Manitoba informed the Government of Canada, pursuant to its Participation Agreement under the Freshwater Fish Marketing Act (FFMA), that it would be withdrawing its participation. This is the first step toward allowing Manitoba to create flexible marketing options for commercial fishers in the province.

Licensed commercial fishers may personally sell fresh or frozen fish caught under the authority of their own commercial license, directly to individual consumers. These fish can only be sold for the personal use of the individual consumer and are not for re-sale.

The Manitoba government assigned a Fisheries Envoy to oversee the process of opting out of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Act and effectively carry out negotiations and consultations with the federal government and fishers. Will be updated once legislation announcement is made.

The Province of Manitoba offers a number of services to assist businesses in establishing in Manitoba as follows.

Program Name Description of product or service Contact Information
Workforce Development
(Education and Training)
The Workforce Development Division's lead responsibility is to enhance Manitoba's economic stability and prosperity. Through a holistic approach, WD considers individuals, employer and organizational barriers and overall needs of our Province, while fostering and strengthening partnerships in the community in order to respond to labour market needs. Lynette Plett
T: (204) 945-1722
Communities Economic Development Fund
(Growth Enterprise and Trade)
The Communities Economic Development Fund (CEDF) is designed to provide Aboriginal people with financial assistance to start or expand small to medium-sized businesses in northern Manitoba Oswald Sawh
T: (204) 945-1722
TF:1-800 561-4315
Business Development and Growing Forward 2

(Manitoba Agriculture)
Manitoba Agriculture creates the environment that accelerates growth in the agriculture, agri-food and agri-product sector.

Growing Forward 2 is a five-year agricultural policy framework agreement among federal-provincial-territorial governments. It is the foundation for co-ordinated government action to help the agriculture and agrifood sectors become more profitable, competitive and innovative.
Laurie Crowe
T: (204) 945-1230
Manitoba Marketing Network Inc. The Manitoba Marketing Network delivers marketing workshops as well as business counseling and business mentoring services to Manitoba's small business community. Brad Franck
T: (204) 945-1230

There are also a number of tax credits that are available and information can be found at https://www.gov.mb.ca/finance/business/ccredits.html

Sustainable fisheries management is increasingly becoming a factor in the marketability of fish products, particularly in key markets in the United States and Europe. Suppliers and retailers around the world are responding to the increased consumer demand for fish / seafood products guaranteed to be from sustainably harvested fisheries.

Certification (or eco-certification) is a market-based process and global fish markets are increasingly demanding assurance from fish marketers that the product comes from sustainably managed fisheries. The term "eco-certification" refers to a process developed to certify that a commercial fishery is managed and operated in a sustainable manner. The decision whether or not to certify a fishery is made following an assessment of the fishery to determine if it meets or passes a given standard. If determined to be sustainable the fishery will receive a "seal of approval" or "eco-label".

Manitoba started investigating the potential for certification in 2008 and has made efforts to advance eco-certification of Manitoba's commercial fisheries. This has included: 1) consulting with fishers, Associations, communities, industry, and Aboriginal groups; 2) engaging industry, other provincial/federal departments/agencies and academic institutions to explore funding opportunities and partnerships; and 3) undertaking four Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification pre-assessments: Lake Winnipeg (2008), northern lakes (2010), Waterhen Lake (2010), and Chitek Lake (2011).

Based on the pre-assessment survey results, Manitoba decided to focus its efforts on meeting the necessary requirements to conduct a full eco-certification assessment of Lake Waterhen to serve as a template to achieving full eco-certification of other Manitoba commercial fisheries. As of June 23rd, 2014 the Waterhen Lake Walleye and Northern Pike Commercial Gillnet Fishery became the first freshwater fishery in Canada and the entire Western Hemisphere, as well as, only the second in the world, to be certified with the right to claim that it is a "well managed and sustainable fishery" in accordance with the MSC's Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing. Waterhen Lake remains the only source of MSC-certified Northern Pike in the world.

Certified Sustainable Seafood hyperlink

In April 2016, the department re-organized a portion of the Fisheries section of the Wildlife and Fisheries Branch into the new Sustainable Fisheries Unit. The mission of this unit is to create maximally productive fisheries able to meet sustainable fishing certification standards, by working collaboratively with stakeholders and using sound science and community knowledge. Such fisheries, even if a sustainable fishing certificate is not sought, will ensure food security and lead sustainable economic development through fishing-related recreational and commercial economic activities.

The Minister of Sustainable Development is committed to develop and implement a credible strategy to secure certification of Manitoba's commercial fisheries.

Fishers deliver their fish to 27 independently owned and operated packing stations in Manitoba during the summer and 19 stations in winter, depending on production (Figure 2). The majority of these packing stations are independently owned and have historically been under contract as agents of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC). The new flexible marketing system will allow these packing stations to enter into contracts with fish buyers, including the FFMC.

dock displayed on lakefront

The major packing stations in Northern Manitoba are located at The Pas, Easterville, Kisseynew Lake, Wabowden, Leaf Rapids, South Indian Lake, Nelson House, and Kinoosao, Saskatchewan (Reindeer Lake). Northern fishers either boat, truck or fly their fish to the nearest station where it is weighed, packed, and then trucked by commercial carrier to market.

Most of the fish delivered in Northern Manitoba is boated either directly to a packing station or to roadside where it is then trucked to a packing station. Very few lakes ship fish by air because of the high cost. The exception is the Island Lake area where there is no alternative. In this area fish are either boated or flown to receiving points at St Theresa Point or Garden Hill, packed and then flown out on commercial flights or charters. Red Sucker Lake fishers periodically deliver to a packing plant in the community where fish is flown out. Fishers from Pukatawagan and Thicket Portage ship their fish by rail to the packing stations at either Wabowden or The Pas. Norway House fishers deliver most of their fish to the station on Playgreen Point, where it is loaded into a semi trailer on a self propelled barge and taken to Norway House. Southern Indian Lake fishers deliver to the road-accessible packing station at South Indian Lake.

Lake Winnipegosis fishers deliver their fish primarily to Dawson Bay, Duck Bay, or the Village of Winnipegosis. However, a few fishers find it more convenient to deliver to Grand Rapids or St. Martin Junction, depending on where they are fishing.

There are 15 delivery points that handle fish from Lake Winnipeg. A fish boat out of Matheson Island is presently being operated during the open water fisheries, collecting fish from McBeth Point, Negginan, and Berens River. The fish are then trucked from Matheson Island to Winnipeg for processing. Fish delivered to the other packing stations on Lake Winnipeg, which are road-accessible, are trucked to Winnipeg. In winter, Lake Winnipeg fishers transport their fish to the nearest road-accessible packing station by bombardier or snow machine.

Lake Manitoba and Winnipegosis fishers deliver their fish to the nearest packing station by boat or truck in summer, and by bombardier or snow machine in winter, where it is then trucked to Winnipeg. Some fishers on southern lakes truck their fish directly to the Transcona plant.

Fish harvested from southern Manitoba lakes can reach the FFMC's Transcona plant the same day. In Northern Manitoba, transport of fish may take a day from lakeside to the nearest packing plant and then another day from the plant to FFMC Transcona. Conceivably, northern fishers can get their catch to Transcona the same day if they lift their nets early enough in the day to reach the packing station and catch the commercial carrier to Winnipeg. However, this can only occur when production is high and the plant is loading a truck for Winnipeg daily.

The Manitoba government provides a number of supports to new and established businesses and cooperatives. There are many advantages for commercial fishing operations in Manitoba, including strategic geographic location, transportation infrastructure, high-quality freshwater lakes and a commitment to sustainability.

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