Lake Winnipeg produces the largest amount of commercial walleye in the world with an unattainable yearly quota of 7 million kilograms (over 15 million pounds) hung around its neck. This oversold resource has seen the price of walleye go up as the catches diminish. The higher prices set by the federal Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC) in recent years saw jumbo walleye become a valuable catch, making an already bad situation disastrous.
Manitoba Conservative MP and former fisheries biologist Robert Sopuck said in a recent Winnipeg Free Press article, “Targeting the most valuable individuals in a fish population is tantamount to raping that population.”
After a decade of mismanagement by the FFMC, the feds are now looking at closing it down. According to the same Winnipeg Free Press article, the auditor general’s report said the FFMC had purchased “equipment it didn’t need, hired staff without a normal interview process, skipped health and safety training, and bungled basic business plans. It was the agency’s third damning audit in 12 years, with little change over that period.”
Regardless of what the feds do, there is no current provincial government direction to save the walleye stock.
So what now? It gets worse.
The middle-sized fish are down, and the jumbos have been besieged, sadly which were mostly strong spawning females. So what’s left? You guessed it, the little guys. The insanity continues.
Scott Forbes, an ecologist at the University of Winnipeg who worked on the eco-certification of the Waterhen Lake fishery says in his article in the Winnipeg Free Press on November 1, 2017:
“…In response to the 2017 change to mesh size regulations, fishers shifted to entry-level walleye with small mesh nets. These young fish have barely had a chance to spawn, further eroding the ability of the stock to replenish itself. And once these small fish are gone the lake will be nearly empty of walleye.
A fall in Lake Winnipeg harvests thus affects global supply. Perversely then, as Lake Winnipeg walleye catches decline, scarcity drives up their value. This provides a powerful incentive for commercial fishers to fish them even harder. The result is a death spiral for Lake Winnipeg walleye.”
Forbes suggests buying out some of the commercial quotas at fair market value and reducing the harvest to sustainable levels. The current harvest rate is about 50% of quota, and 60% would obliterate the stock. Biologists estimate 38% is the maximum sustainable rate.
So whether the feds shut down the FFMC or not is irrelevant if no one is worrying about the very fish they are supposed to handle. More like closing the barn door after the horse is out.
The provincial government needs to step up to the plate with some answers on how the commercial fishery will be managed with or without the FFMC, and what the plan is for the sustainability of Lake Winnipeg.
Hooked has published a series of warning articles as far back as December, 2015 and as recent as this spring: “The Future is now”, “A Fishery in Decline”, “Killing the Golden Goose”, and The Value of Manitoba’s Fishery.
Hooked editor Don Lamont sits on a panel of biologists and anglers who want to save the fishery but it might already be too late.