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Weagamow chief wants commercial fishing revised

Monday April 30, 2012
Weagamow Chief Pierre Morriseau speaks with Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett during a community tour that visited Morriseau's community.

Weagamow Chief Pierre Morriseau is calling for a renewal of commercial fishing opportunities in his community.

“The fish is still here,” said Morriseau, who worked six-to-seven days a week in the commercial fishing industry until the 1980s. “We’d like to see the industry start up again to get our young people back into it.”

Morriseau said the commercial fishing industry collapsed in his community in the late 1980s due to the cut of a commercial fishing subsidy for equipment and freight costs and a low return on the catch.

“That product is handled so many times before it gets to market that we got very little,” Morriseau said. “You could never make your bread and butter. When they cut that subsidy off, most of the families had to stop.”

Morriseau said some of the fishermen were able to maintain the industry for a while, but as time went by more people kept dropping out.

“You needed a certain amount of tonnage in order to maintain the fishery for the plant,” Morriseau said.

Morriseau wants the commercial fishing subsidy to be reinstated, noting he felt fortunate to be involved in the industry.

“I was a commercial fisherman in all these little lakes and that was my passion,” Morriseau said.

Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett encouraged Morriseau’s commercial fishing vision during her April 5 visit to Weagamow along with Grand Chief Stan Beardy and a group of national and local media.

“We would like to have your fish in the south,” Bennett said.

Beardy said the community could have a viable commercial fishery if they had the right to sell their fish directly to markets in the south such as high-end restaurants in urban centres.

“A lot of restaurants in Thunder Bay like to buy fresh fish for Fridays,” Beardy said, adding that Toronto and other nearby cities in the United States could also be potential markets.

Now that the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation no longer operates in Ontario, Beardy wants to work with Weagamow on possible markets for their fish.

“This is pretty exciting,” Beardy said. “If you look at the market and help your people to sell to the highest bidder, I think it would be quite feasible.”

A Ministry of Natural Resources spokeswoman said commercial fishing licences are available.

“North Caribou Lake First Nation has held commercial fishing licences in the past,” said Michelle Novak, communication and marketing specialist with the MNR. “Applications for commercial fishing licences are available by contacting the Ministry of Natural Resources.”

The Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation was established in 1969 to purchase, process and market all freshwater fish caught for commercial sale in northwestern Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Over the past year, the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation has left the Saskatchewan and northwestern Ontario markets.

Although the March 29 federal budget called for $33.5 million in spending to support First Nations commercial fishing, it is aimed at initiatives in the Pacific region under the Pacific Integrated Commercial Fishing Initiative and for the Mik'maq and Maliseet First Nations in Atlantic Canada and Quebec affected by the Marshall decision under the Atlantic Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiatives.


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