Moving Forward with Manitoba Fisheries

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THE TIME IS NOW!

It was 1990 and I was on the road with two board members of Fish Futures, John Toone and David Carrick. We were visiting as many regional Wildlife and Enhancement groups as time would allow. Why, you ask?  Fish Futures, especially President David Carrick had come to the realization that unless the angling public became involved in the management of the fisheries resource in this province, we would be at extreme risk of losing that resource. He also realized that it was a province wide responsibility and that there would be strength in numbers.

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Fish Futures President David Carrick was the driving force behind FEF

This, because of drastic cuts in the budget on a provincial level for Manitoba Fisheries. If you didn’t believe it, one only had to look at budget allocation. Ken Kansas, who worked at the department, first as a summer student in 1979, then finishing as the eastern region biologist with his retirement in 2018 tells the story. Ken states that in that time, some 38 years, the Department went from 94 positions to 26, a 78% reduction.

For a complete insight on these changes, read Ken’s extremely informative article on this website here.

FINDING A WORKING FUNDING MECHANISM FOR MANITOBA

That ongoing reduction in staff is what motivated Carrick and others to initiate changes.  Fish Futures hired me as a consultant in 1989 to gather information on stand alone funding mechanisms from other jurisdictions across to North America. They wanted to find a working model that could be applied in this province. After two years of research and many province wide meetings, Fish Futures put forward The Manitoba Fisheries Enhancement Initiative. After much negotiation with the government in power at the time the Fund came into being in 1992.

HISTORY OF THE FEF

The original Fisheries Enhancement Initiative (FEI) was established in 1992 by a 1993 licence fee increase of $2.50 per licence on angling licences. It had a mandate not only to improve fish numbers but also habitat. From 1993-2007, $350,000 was available annually for fisheries enhancement initiatives.

In 2008, a further $3.00 angling fee increase was added and the formation of the Fisheries Enhancement Fund (FEF) was created. Funding levels were increased to $600,000, a broader range of projects could be funded and a Project Review Committee consisting of members of seven angling groups was implemented with the FEF. A further increase in funding was granted in 2008, which made available $850,000 for Fisheries Enhancement Initiatives.

However, we weren’t done yet.

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ESTABLISHMENT OF THE FISH AND WILDLIFE ENHANCEMENT FUND

On March 1, 2014, the Fish and Wildlife Enhancement Fund (FWEF) was established under authority of The Fish and Wildlife Enhancement Fund Act.

Ten dollars ($10) dollars from every angling licence sold was now to be directed into the Fish Enhancement Fund. Five dollars ($5) from every hunting and trapping licence sold will be directed into the Wildlife Enhancement Fund. Various organizations involved in fishing, hunting and trapping helped push for this new dedicated funding for fish and wildlife related projects.

One big change with the formation of the FWEF was that it now had the ability to carry over any unspent funds from one year to the next.

WHERE ARE WE NOW?

Has this fund worked? For the most part it has been a success story. We wouldn’t have a hatchery and stocking in this province unless we had the fund which looks after the entire budget of the Whiteshell Fish Hatchery. It did become a funding model for projects suggested by government and implemented by government. A lot of the public sector was hoping for better. The website has been very sparse of any information on what has been accomplished.  Maybe that is all about to change.

The Manitoba Fisheries and Wildlife Enhancement Fund now has a new chairman. Robert Sopuck returns to Manitoba, retiring from a busy political career over the last few years which included being the former MP for Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa. While an MP, he was a member of both the Environment and Fisheries Committees and was heavily involved with both Fisheries and Environmental policies.

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Bob Sopuck catching whitefish on Clear Lake

My experience with Bob goes back to the days when he was writing the hunting column for the Free Press while I was doing the fishing column. Back then, he was also volunteering his time as the Chairman of the Fisheries and Lake Improvement Plan for the Parkland Region (FLIPPR). His background as a biologist made him well suited for the position. Over the years this organization has helped make the Parkland region one of the best drive-to stocked trout fisheries in the world.

EARMARKED FUNDS TO MANAGE THE RESOURCE

I recently heard from Sopuck on a column I had written for the Free Press in the middle of December.  He had an issue with my statement about a new funding model for our Manitoba Fisheries Department. He believes the money is already there, it just needs be earmarked correctly. He, like many others in this province, doesn’t believe the management of the resource should be the sole responsible of anglers.

Over the last few years stakeholders have come together to recommend solutions to this troubling downward spiral of resource management.

One such group, the Lake Winnipeg Sportfishing Stakeholders commissioned Probe Research to conduct an Economic Impact study on the south basin of Lake Winnipeg.

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The Lake Winnipeg Walleye Economic Survey came out last year, a copy of which is available here.

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A new Probe Research study is currently being conducted by Travel Manitoba to find out the current value of hunting and fishing to this province.

TIME FOR MAJOR CHANGE

We can give the province all the economic numbers they can handle, but unless there is a political will to change, it won’t happen. There needs to a priority elevation for fisheries conservation, so enough funds are available to successfully manage this public resource.

As anglers we are completely within our rights to say that too much money is spent/wasted in certain areas and to demand that sport fish management be allocated those funds that are being spent on areas of lesser importance. All it takes is a belief by government, one that anglers need to continually push for.

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About Author

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Don Lamont - The Complete Angler Don Lamont has been a full time professional angler for 34 years, hosting and producing the award winning “The Complete Angler” television series for fifteen of those. Don has received several awards for his commitment to public education and the future of recreational fishing in Canada. Those include a 2000 Canadian Recreational Fisheries Award for his work with Manitoba’s Urban Angling Partnership. In 2003 he received a Manitoba Tourism Award for his promotion of Manitoba and western Canada. In 2004 he was a finalist at the Tourism Industry Association of Canada National Award for Tourism Excellence, presented by The Globe and Mail. Don has been a regular fishing columnist in the Winnipeg Free Press since 1992 and is currently editor of Hooked Magazine.

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