The Hay River fish plant will be open during wintery weather for the first time in five years, according to Bert Buckley Sr., a board member of the NWT Fishermen’s Federation.
Although it will be on a trial basis – possibly from mid-November into December – Buckley said he feels the move to open the plant and process fish in the cold-weather season is a step in the right direction.
“When fishing slowed down to a trickle, Freshwater (Fish Marketing Corporation) had to close the plant in the winter,” he said. “Hopefully, that’s going to change now.”
The summer season and the past few years have seen the NWT Fishermen’s Federation taking over control from Freshwater, as it is commonly known, to good effect. The haul this year – about a million pounds – represents a one-quarter increase over last year’s total.
Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) Minister David Ramsay told The Hub that local management is something he would like to see continue moving into the future.
“At the end of the day, the fishermen (in Hay River) have been in business for decades,” he said. “We want to lean on them for their expertise.”
The recently-released NWT Economic Opportunities Strategy states that it is the aim of the territorial government to provide financial support for the fishing industry.
“First and foremost, we need to look at investing in a new processing plant in Hay River, in improving and maintaining the current fleet, and in helping fishermen get new and better equipment,” said Ramsay.
The minister also expressed an interest in expanding the domestic market for whitefish, as well as exploring new and existing markets outside the territory.
With estimates putting the total quantity of fish removed from Great Slave Lake at a bit less than 20 per cent of the available quota in 2012, Ramsay said the lake is a prime candidate for targeted help to revive the fishing industry and that he is working closely with Hay River MLAs to see its potential realized.
However, the minister also noted the government can throw all the money it wants at the industry, but it will be for naught if there aren’t more fishers to take up where their grandfathers left off.
“We need to find a new generation of fishermen out there,” he said. “We can’t do any of this without finding more fishermen.”
Buckley agreed that there is a gap between his own peers and the current generation when it comes to plying the waters, even going so far as to say, “They haven’t made any fishermen since the 1960s.”
He described the life as one of hardship and labour, and separation from family, but also one of immense satisfaction at a job quantifiably well done.
“Every day, you have to come in to town with fish,” he said. “You can see them right there and you know you’ve done something with your day. It’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle.”
Buckley hopes better economic opportunities will encourage a new generation of fishers to come forward. He said it’s a life that he himself has enjoyed and would like to see others do so as well, if that is their choice.
Ramsay agreed, saying it will take increased numbers of engaged fishers to make the most of the resources of Great Slave Lake.
“I’ve made a commitment to re-invigorate this industry,” he said. “The Great Slave fishery is underutilized and it’s right here on our doorstep. We need to chart a course to take advantage of that.”
— Sarah Ladik