Manitoba Fisheries

Return to previous page



There are many different users of the fisheries resource.

The resource may be used for recreational, commercial, dietary or cultural purposes however, each resource use has value and should be respected.

Recreational Angling

Sharing a Valuable Resource

Angling in Manitoba is a popular source of recreation for residents and visitors to the province. Manitoba's abundant lakes and rivers are home to over 80 species of fish, with anglers likely to catch about 30 different species. This recreational activity can be enjoyed by young and old, and whether one is fishing on a remote northern lake or sitting by the bank of a slow moving river, angling is a relaxing activity ideally suited for families and individuals who wish to enjoy some time in the outdoors.

Who Angles in Manitoba?

On average, about 170,000 anglers fish annually in Manitoba. Data from the 2004-2005 Manitoba Water Stewardship Annual Report show that approximately 77% of licensed anglers in Manitoba are Manitoba residents, 6% are nonresident Canadians, and 17% are from outside of Canada. In addition, data from the 2000 Survey of Recreational Anglers in Manitoba show that about 23% of total anglers are under the age of 16, and 21% of all anglers are female. License sales have shown a slight decline over the past several years, reflecting national trends in license sales.

Effort and Catch

"Angling effort" is measured in days, where all or part of a day is considered one unit of effort. Based on the 2000 Survey, it estimated that anglers fish over 2.7 million days annually, with resident anglers accounting for 82% of days fished. Most of the fishing occurs in southern Manitoba, especially on the Red River, Buffalo Bay, and the Whiteshell/Nopiming Region. Approximately 14 million fish are caught and 3.1 million are kept, giving Manitoba a release rate of 77%. On average, anglers catch 6 fish per day.

The most sought-after species are walleye, with northern pike, yellow perch, smallmouth bass and channel catfish next. Walleye, northern pike and yellow perch account for 91% of all fish kept.


Value of Angling ($)

Angling is an important economic activity in the province with anglers spending about $125 million (including ice fishing) annually on activities and supplies directly related to angling. Approximately $61 million of this amount is spent by anglers from outside Manitoba who visit the province to fish. Direct expenditures include tackle, food and lodging, travel costs, fishing services, package plans and other related costs.

Another economic spin-off that has been created from angling is commercial bait fishing. Over 100 Manitobans are licensed in the bait fishing industry to harvest and sell leeches and live/frozen minnows to anglers for bait. Gross sales in the industry have averaged over $650,000, of which about $13,000 comes from the sale of leeches.

Tourism Industry

Approximately 43,000 anglers come to Manitoba annually to fish. These anglers spend about $61 million and are an important part of Manitoba's tourism industry. There are more than 150 lodges and outfitters who cater to these anglers. Approximately 47% of angling effort by visitors takes place in northern Manitoba, thus providing significant job opportunities for northern Manitobans.

The majority of visiting anglers come from the north Midwestern United States. Around 63% of visiting anglers from outside of Canada come from the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas.

In comparison, the majority of Canadian anglers who visit Manitoba come from Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Health Benefits

Being involved in recreational activities can be beneficial to people in many different ways.

Recreational angling is a great opportunity for families and friends to share quality time together, while engaging in an activity that can be enjoyed by all. Spending a quiet evening along the shoreline of a lazy river or loading up the boat for a weekend fishing trip can provide a break from the everyday pressures we all experience.

By taking advantage of the fisheries around us, people feel a sense of happiness and enjoyment in this activity. Just think of how many fishing stories you've heard about "the big one that got away," followed by a round of laughter. Fishing always brings out fond memories in people's minds, immediately followed by the thought, when can I go out fishing again?

Domestic Fishing

Constitutional Rights

Treaties were signed in the late 1800s and early 1900s between Canada and First Nations representatives. These treaties protected, among other things, the right of Status Indians to fish for food during any time of the year.

In Manitoba, fish stock conservation to ensure resource sustainability, is the first priority for making management decisions. Following this, domestic fishing for food by First Nations peoples is given the highest priority for harvest of the fishery resource. These rights are protected under Canada's Constitution.

Sharing a Valuble Resource

Domestic fishing is fishing for food by Treaty Indian persons and by individuals who legitimately require access to the fisheries resource to meet basic subsistence requirements.

Domestic fishing has long been an important activity to First Nations peoples. Fish have, and continue to be a valuable source of food. Fishing also plays an important role in bringing people together socially including the celebration of religious and cultural traditions.

Economic Value

Domestic food fishing is an activity that many First Nations people use to feed their families. For example, a survey of domestic fish harvest by the community of Cross Lake in northern Manitoba indicated that over 103,000 kilograms of fish was caught in one year. Over half of this harvest were fish species popular for eating (i.e. 55,800 kg). If this food had been purchased at the local grocery store, it would have cost close to $165,000.

Health and Historical Value

In the past, fish were a source of great wealth for First Nations peoples, due to the reliability of spring and fall spawning runs and the ease with which fish could be harvested on these spawning runs.


The level and type of fish species used was seasonal and depended somewhat on the geographical location. Some regional examples showing how different fish species were harvested and utilized by First Nations people follows.

Boreal Forest


In the boreal part of Manitoba extending up to the tundra, the geography is characterized by many lakes connected by rivers. In the lake/river country, First Nations relied heavily on these waters for both food and transportation. During open water seasons, transportation was by canoe and for some First Nations, fish was the mainstay of their diet. Game was often less abundant and very scattered. In this part of the province, summer camps were established on lakeshores and at river mouths in areas where fish were abundant. Fish were harvested by many methods, including:

using fishing clubs,
Fish Club
Fish fishing nets made of willow cords, and
Fish Net
spear fishing.

Of the species harvested during the spring spawning run, lake sturgeon ("Buffalo of the Water") was - and continues to be - a very important species to First Nations peoples. Historically, sturgeon were used for many purposes. Over 100 uses of sturgeon have been identified, such as: oil for medicinal purposes, bones for needles, spears and arrow heads, stomach linings for drum coverings, and "isinglass" from the swim bladders for making glue and paint for teepees.


In addition to the value of the fish themselves, sturgeon also played a major role in social and cultural traditions. The spring spawning grounds became a meeting place for widely dispersed people. These meeting places provided an opportunity for friends and families to fish, trade and celebrate religious and cultural traditions.

As in the spring, fall spawning runs also provided an opportunity for groups to meet and harvest a valuable food source for the upcoming winter. However, during this time of the year, whitefish replaced sturgeon as the major species harvested.


During the winter season, fish were also caught at openings and rapids using bone fish spears and by jigging with bone fish hooks. Key species were lake sturgeon, longnose sucker, whitefish, perch, lake trout and walleye.

Far North


In northern Manitoba, caribou was the most important food source historically, although fish were harvested seasonally on spawning runs and during periods when game was scarce. Fishing techniques used in the Boreal region were also used in the north. Harvested species included: whitefish, pike, lake trout and arctic char.



In the prairies, buffalo was the single most important source of food. However, fish also represented a significant part of the diet of First Nations peoples. In this region, fish were harvested during spring spawning runs, and sturgeon was a highly prized species. Sturgeon meat was often used to make fish pemmican which was just as important as the traditional bison pemmican. To catch sturgeon, as well as many other species, fishing weirs were built out of wooden poles and stones. The weirs were placed across rivers, streams and creeks to catch these fish during spawning runs.


Preparation of Fish

Depending on the time of year, fish were prepared using several different techniques. In some areas, fish were placed on drying racks to be cured by the sun and smoke.


Other cooking methods including boiling fish in clay covered pots, woven spruce root kettles or pouches made from caribou stomachs, or by heat-drying fish on poles suspended in birch-bark containers above a smouldering fire. Each technique depended on whether the fish were going to be preserved for later use or eaten right away.


Fish species that were not required for food were dried and fed to dog teams, thereby representing a source of fuel for transportation purposes.

Cultural Value

Given their considerable dependence on fish historically, First Nations peoples have developed strong cultural and spiritual ties to the fish they rely on for food and other purposes. First Nations peoples believe there is a close bond between human beings and fish, and consistent with this belief is the practice of harvesting only what is needed, and using every part of each fish that is caught. As a result, First Nations peoples have harvested and managed the fish resource to ensure that a supply of fish exists for future generations.


Many stories exist in Native folklore about fish, including the Ojibwa story about how the maria came to be. In this story a sturgeon that ate some sturgeon eggs was turned into the ugliest fish possible as punishment and thus became a maria.

The Ojibwa also had a "clan" system, where each clan or group of people was known by an animal symbol. This symbolized the strength and duty of the clan, and one of the clans was known as the fish clan. The fish clan were known as teachers and scholars and like the fish who swim under the water, they asked for little recognition, but remained true to their noble role of trying to help children develop skills and healthy spirits. They also used their knowledge to solve disputes between other clans.

The symbol is prevalent around Lake Winnipeg and illustrates the importance of sturgeon in this part of Manitoba.

Commercial Fishing

History of Commercial Fishing

Commercial Fishing

The first successful commercial fishery in Manitoba began in 1882 when Reid and Clarke operated one sailboat on Lake Winnipeg and brought their catches to Winnipeg. By 1887, a total of 65 sailboats and seven tugs and barges were operating on Lake Winnipeg. That year 2.5 million pounds of fish were harvested, worth $114,000.


During the 1920s and 1930s sailboats were replaced by gas powered boats giving fishermen increased mobility.


In addition, roads and railways (which replaced horse-drawn sleighs) were also expanded into northern communities. This helped reduce transportation costs and allowed fishermen to sell their catch to distant markets not previously attainable.


With increasing numbers of fishers and fish prices being controlled by large American fish companies, a need was seen to develop a better fish marketing system. Therefore, in 1969 the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC) was established. FFMC was given the task of establishing new markets and increasing returns to fishers.


How are These Fisheries Regulated?

Commercial Harvest Schedule

There are over 300 lakes and 70 creeks commercially fished in Manitoba. These lakes and creeks are listed in a document called the "Commercial Harvest Schedule." This schedule lists the different seasons, limits and conditions for each of these waterbodies.

Ice Fishing

Commercially fished lakes are managed using a tool called "quota". Most northern lakes are managed using a "lake quota." What this means is that a set number of licensed fishers can fish the lake until the quota is used up. In comparison, Lakes Winnipeg and Winnipegosis are managed by "individual quotas." These types of quotas can be bought and sold by fishers, who must meet certain eligibility requirements (i.e. residency, fishing experience, etc.). Most lake and individual quotas have been set for many years and were originally based on traditional or average harvests, maximum sustainable yield estimates and/or the average number of people who fished the lake prior to implementation.

Ice Fishing
Fishing Seasons

Generally, fishing seasons are called as either open water or winter. On Lake Winnipeg, the open water season is further divided up into the summer and fall season. Opening dates for open water seasons and closing dates for winter fisheries are normally set to coincide with spawning periods. During the spawning period, fish tend to congregate, making them vulnerable to being caught in large numbers. Opening dates for winter fisheries and closing dates for open water seasons coincide with ice freeze-up. This is done for safety reasons.


Today's commercial fishing industry contributes significant dollars to Manitoba's economy. Within Canada's inland fisheries, Manitoba is one of the largest producers of freshwater fish. Commercial fishing provides income and a way of life for nearly 3,500 Manitobans.

According to the 2004-2005 Manitoba Water Stewardship Annual Report, the annual commercial harvest has averaged about 13 million kilograms (28.6 million pounds) per year since 1994.

In dollar terms, this represents nearly $25 million a year that is invested back into Manitoba's economy.

Value of Commercial Fishing ($)

Pickerel/walleye (35%), mullet (26%), whitefish (18%), northern pike (11%), and sauger (5%) are the major species harvested in Manitoba. Of the species listed above, pickerel(walleye) accounts for 61% of the landed value (paid directly to commercial fishers) due to its high market price.

In comparison, sauger and whitefish represent 12% and 11% of the landed value respectively. All other species combined represent the remaining 16% of the total landed value.

Where Do the Fish Go When They are Caught?

Once fish are caught, they are sold through the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC), which serves fishers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Northwest Territories, and part of Northwestern Ontario. Fish are shipped to packing stations throughout Manitoba by air, water and/or land.

On average, Manitoba commercial fishers catch approximately 64% of all the fish sold to FFMC, and receive 75% of the total landed value. Fish are sold in American markets, overseas countries (e.g. France and Japan) and directly to final consumers.

Manitoba's commercial fishery produces 25% of the total value of Canada's freshwater commercial harvest

Health Benefits

Development of this inland fishery over the years has led to a source of income and jobs for fishermen throughout the province. Through the jobs and income in areas that have limited economic opportunities, people gain a sense of pride and self-esteem in what they are doing. If people feel they are contributing to their community and society as a whole, they are more likely to be productive citizens, therefore creating a healthier environment around them.