A few weeks ago, the Frontier Centre released a policy series called Free to Fish: How a Freshwater Fish Monopoly is Impovering Aboriginal Fishers.
The piece tackled the problem of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (the FFMC), which is the sole selling and marketing agency for fish caught in Alberta, Manitoba, and the Northwest Territories.
Declining selling prices for fish and rising costs are eating away at the little returns commercial fishermen are receiving for their fish.
Modelled on the Canadian Wheat Board, the FFMC was established when fishermen were very dependent on buyers. Nowadays, however, the FFMC is trapping fishermen in poverty.
Freshwater President John Wood, in a recent Winnipeg Free Press piece highlighting the new study, dismissed the study and stated that the FFMC is doing a good job at marketing fish. Well, tell that to the fishermen, particularly in northern regions, who are getting next to nothing for their carp and mullet and because they are off-quota have to dump them into lakes.
Wood also mentioned that rising costs and a higher Canadian dollar are problems in spite of the FFMC. He is partly right. But, there is considerable evidence fishermen can get higher prices by selling outside the monopoly. The FFMC competes with the Great Lakes fishery, particularly in Lake Erie. There are differences between the two markets (Great Lakes is concentrated and closer to border, whereas FFMC is spread out and isolated), but selling prices for Great Lakes fish species are higher than FFMC, according to DFO figures that I will post in the future here.
Government monopolies are simply not as adept as the private sector at responding to innovation, changing customer needs and new price signals.
If the FFMC was so great at marketing and can provide the best deal for fishermen, why does it have to maintain itself by coercion?
The FFMC can survive on its own without monopoly powers but it would have to actually convince fishermen why it can provide better prices.
It can create its own marketing strength by persuasion not the threat of fines.