Monday, 22 April 2013

No fish for you

If you're a fisherman on Manitoba's lakes, you can only sell your fish to the government's monopsonist Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation. I've heard different stories about its establishment: some stories had it that the FFMC was set up to protect small fishermen against big corporations who'd otherwise exploit them; others had it that the system was meant to encourage efficiency through centralised processing. Or maybe it was both of them.

It really isn't working out very well for fishers based far from the processing plant. And it isn't working out for fishers who have put in the yards to identify markets for fish that the FFMC has deemed to be of very low value. Fishers cannot sell some species of fish to the FFMC at any kind of profit, but they're also forbidden from selling those fish to other willing buyers. And so the fish are left for the birds to eat.

Bartley Kives of the Winnipeg Free Press investigates.

Up on Lake Manitoba, Kenyon believes he has the answer — or had it, before he wound up in a legal dispute with Freshwater Fish, the source of most of his income.
In 2009, Kenyon and his daughter, Amanda Stevenson, pooled the resources of 300 west Interlake fishers, many of them M├ętis or residents of First Nations, to form the WMM Co-Op, with an eye to shipping rough fish to the United States.
Although Freshwater Fish has the exclusive right to buy Manitoba fish bound for the export market, it provided the WMM Co-Op with an export licence with the provision none of the fish wind up in any market already served by the Crown corporation. In December 2010, Kenyon’s group struck a deal to sell mullet and carp to Schafer Industries, a Thomson, Ill., operation that’s successfully found buyers for U.S. rough fish.
Some fishers living far from Winnipeg claim they don’t sell mullet to Freshwater Fish because it isn’t worth the shipping cost to the Plessis Road plant. In 2011, Schafer Fisheries sent its own trucks to Manitoba to pick up approximately 450 kilograms of rough fish — until Freshwater Fish pulled WMM Co-Op’s export licence.
Freshwater Fish says Schafer was reselling some of that fish to A&B Famous Gefilte Fish, a New Jersey processor that has bought product from Freshwater Fish.
"It was going into customers in the New York area," Wood says. "They were not operating under the terms of the licence that required them to sell to a new market.Under the law, we had no option but to remove their licence."
The licence was pulled in May 2011. Incensed WMM Co-Op fishers, who were receiving a better price from Schafer, continued to fish.  
In July 2011, Manitoba Conservation officials seized 17,000 pounds of carp and mullet sitting in a shed in Duck Bay, which sits north of Pine Creek First Nation on Lake Winnipegosis. The co-op’s directors, including Kenyon and Stevenson, were charged under the Freshwater Fish Marketing Act.
The seizure incensed Schafer Fisheries, which hoped to buy a total of 1,350 kilograms of mullet and carp from WMM.
"I don’t know where Freshwater gets off saying those were their customers," says Mike Schafer, the second-generation operator of the company started by his father in 1955. "I didn’t go after any business I didn’t already have. I sell those fish every week. I don’t understand why they’re a problem."

Canada's politicians spend a lot of time talking about the importance of "value-added" in exports. I guess processing by-catch rather than leaving it to rot doesn't count as adding value.

Canadian supply management policy remains firmly stuck on the stupid setting.

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