Fishers on Great Slave Lake netted $817,000 worth of fish in 2013, compared to $503,000 in 2012, according the Bert Buckley Sr., a member of the NWT Fishermen’s Federation.
“That’s on account of our efforts and the grace of Mother Nature,” he told The Hub. “The last time these levels were reached was 2006-2007.”
Buckley said the increase of $314,000 over the year doesn’t include the product fishers sold locally, so in reality the figure is even higher.
According to data gathered by the federation and the fish plant in Hay River, 12 head fishers brought in 404,000 kilograms of fish this past season – once again without counting local sales. With the winter fishery set to open, that number will climb even higher.
“This is all good news,” said Buckley. “We’ve shown we can increase our capacity, but we’ve barely scraped the surface of potential production.”
All this is positive for the lake’s fishers, especially in light of the GNWT’s recent pledges of support in the building of a new and more efficient fish plant to be run by the federation, not the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation. The federation took over from the corporation in 2013 and, according to Buckley, proved it was by no means beyond its capabilities.
“This means more money in local pockets this year,” he said. “And that’s why we’re trying for a longer season, too.”
For its part, the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation supports the federation’s plans to build more and better infrastructure and become a self-sufficient operation, and have the winter fishery stay open for the first time in years.
“This is an exciting opportunity to keep progressing towards a better and more viable industry,” said Jason Grabowski, the corporation’s field operations manager for Alberta, the NWT and western Saskatchewan. “It’s keeping the interest in the fishery going, as well.”
Grabowski also noted that increasing the capacity of the current fleet also added weight to the argument for a new plant in the future, saying the corporation is still moving forward with helping the federation improve its business plan and model.
However, Buckley noted there are some obstacles that the federation must overcome to make the industry truly viable again.
Beyond building a new plant, he said a reduced staff at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans means fewer studies and more unnecessary closures of coastal waters where smaller boats can more easily set their nets.
“They’re taking away our water,” he said, adding he feels progress on the issue is being made and he looks forward to making further steps after a meeting of the Great Slave Lake Advisory Committee in early December.
As always, there is also the problem of attracting young fishers to a life that is by no means an easy one. Buckley said he would like to see some kind of program offered through either high schools or colleges that could help equip young people for a life on the water, or at the very least let them know it’s an option.
“There have been a lot of negative things said about this industry,” he noted. “But it’s not like the whole lake is fished out. It’s freedom. You’re your own boss. And if you’re motivated, maybe it’s the job for you.”