Free to Fish: How a Freshwater Fish Monopoly is Impoverishing Aboriginal Fishers

Aboriginal Futures, Joseph Quesnel, Publications

Executive Summary

• First Nations and Métis make up the majority of commercial fishers who are under the jurisdiction of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC), which holds a monopoly in Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and parts of northwestern Ontario.

• The FFMC is in trouble, as Saskatchewan and northwestern Ontario withdrew from its mandate and the NWT is considering a similar move. Moreover, Aboriginal communities in northern areas are mobilized in opposition to the FFMC.

• Aboriginal fishers are finding they can make much more money using their own export markets rather than selling through the FFMC.

• Despite its good intentions, the FFMC is problematic, as the market conditions that prevailed in the fishing industry a t its inception no longer exist.

• Clear evidence shows that prices and returns for fishers selling through the FFMC are declining for a variety of reasons including higher transportation and equipment costs and currency fluctuations.

• Aboriginal fishers are particularly affected, as they deal in rough fish species (other than pickerel and whitefish), which are not as lucrative and which the FFMC is not good at marketing.

• The location of the FFMC’s processing plant in Winnipeg benefits fishers operating in the south basin of Lake Winnipeg but is detrimental to fishers in northern locations (where most Aboriginal fishers are).

• To maximize market opportunities, the FFMC should slowly become a private company, and all fishers should be free to sell and market as they see fit. In the meantime, the provinces that remain in the FFMC should consider either opting out or pushing to have certain species of fish, such as the rough species, removed from the FFMC’s jurisdiction, as the FFMC is not good at selling them. Fishers should also consider demanding a federal ministerial exemption for the removal of certain regions or lakes from the FFMC’s jurisdiction.

• The federal government and the provinces affected should work with the fishing industry to adjust to a dual marketing system. Discussions with stakeholders in Saskatchewan and Manitoba show that private companies are already interested in taking over fishing opportunities when the FFMC leaves.

“Our fishermen are too busy to find markets other than FFMC who only deals with Europe, the U.S. and Canada. Sixty-seven per cent of our fish goes to the U.S., and only a small part stays in Canada and the biggest buyer is France. What about China and the rest of Asia? If we act as leaders, we have every right to be involved in marketing our fish. We need to create new markets, and we can undertake these measures as leaders of our people.”

– Chief Ovide Mercredi, Misipawistik Cree Nation, 2010

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