Certificate holders voted 11-7 to begin the process following a tense special meeting at the Ptarmigan Inn on Feb. 17. The question on the ballot was, “Should the NWT continue to participate in the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation?”
“We’ll see where it goes from here,” NWT Fishermen’s Federation president Alex Richardson said following the vote, which he admitted was closer than he expected.
“This was just to give us a general idea of what we wanted to do.”
John Colford, the manager of traditional economy, agriculture and fisheries for the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, was in Hay River for the vote. He told the crowd of approximately 20 fishermen that the next step in the process would be consultation with the numerous aboriginal groups in the NWT. The Northwest Territories Freshwater Fish Marketing Act would then have to be repealed by the GNWT.
“A motion would have to be drafted to be put in the legislative assembly to repeal the act,” he said, explaining the process could take as little as a year.
The GNWT’s standing committee on economic development and infrastructure made a recommendation to ITI Minister Bob McLeod to repeal the freshwater act. Colford said McLeod told the committee he would not act without direction from the federation. McLeod did not return The Hub’s request for comment by press time on Monday.
While admitting the GNWT would be in a position to provide assistance to the fishermen, Colford stated that they would not be able to replace the services FFMC currently provides.
“We don’t have a market capacity in the Government of the Northwest Territories to sell fish,” he said. “The fishermen would become small business people.”
Former federation president Bert Buckley Sr. asked why the committee was not available to answer questions.
“The more that (the fishermen) know, the more they can say yes or no,” he told Colford, who admitted there was no plan in place for what to do once the legislation was repealed.
John Wood, the corporation’s president and CEO, refused comment on the results of the vote, but said Freshwater will continue to operate in Hay River until the process is complete.
“We’re legislated to purchase all the fish that are offered to us from commercial fishers,” he told The Hub on Friday. “Until the legislation is repealed in the territories we would remain active.”
The corporation has faced challenges with its Hay River operation for a number of years, Wood admitted. The packing plant currently operates in the summer months only.
“It’s been very difficult for us over the last few years in the Great Slave Lake fishery because the number of fishers has dropped significantly, and the catch has dropped, which has made it very difficult for us to operate a packing operation up there profitably,” Wood said.
Hay River South MLA told The Hub she was hopeful NWT fishermen would now be able to secure a fairer price for their catch.
“With this position now in hand, the GNWT can pursue it’s departure from the FMMC and begin to put together an alternate plan that I think will be much better for the Fishermen and the fishery,” she said.
The uncertainty of the process left many fishermen – Richardson included – with an uneasy sense.
“Freshwater buys the fish right now,” Richardson said. “What happens when they’re not there? Who am I going to sell my fish to? We’ll find out down the road. Maybe it will work out – you never know.”