A phased transition from Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC) to the NWT Fishermen’s Federation this spring will mean greater control over the fish plant in Hay River.
Originally built in 1970 and used as a production facility, it is now a deteriorating packing plant with high operating costs.
The corporation and the federation have come to an agreement under which the latter will act as the former’s agent in Hay River.
“For the last few seasons, no Freshwater employees have worked in Hay River to reduce costs,” said FFMC’s head of plant operations Durga Liske in an e-mail. “We have contacted an agent to operate the plant on FFMC’s behalf.”
Liske said there will be a phased transition to the NWT Fishermen’s Federation.
Under this arrangement, he added, local fishers will have greater control over opening and closing of their fishing season, hours of operation and any other day-to-day responsibilities.
Training for local staff at the plant will also be provided by the FFMC.
“Everything from entering information into our Freshwater Fish Purchase System through to handling of whitefish roe is gone through in detail,” Liske said.
Last year’s season began in June and ended in mid-October.
Fishermen’s Federation president Alex Richardson said the organization wants to run the plant and keep jobs in the North.
“You want to hire northern help,” he said. “We need a new plant. The cost of running the existing one is just unreal. If we’re going to start running our own plant, we want to own it, too. We want a smaller, more economical plant.”
The plant processed approximately 334,000 kilograms of fish in 2012, which is roughly 19 per cent of Great Slave Lake’s quota.
Liske said FFMC would like to increase that number to a minimum of 400,000 kilograms and grow from there.
“A new building will do well with that level of volume,” he said. “There is a huge opportunity for growth.”
Richardson said the federation, the corporation and other parties are currently in discussions to find a suitable facility size and cost for a future plant in Hay River.
“The current plant is expensive to operate and maintain as a packing facility due to its size and age,” Liske said. “A new building will be much more efficient. There is a great opportunity in Hay River to increase fishing volumes to keep up with worldwide demand on whitefish. The bottom line is the world needs more whitefish and Freshwater needs more whitefish to supply that demand.”
The FFMC official added Hay River and the Fishermen’s Federation are in the best position to supply those needs.
— Myles Dolphin