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Fishers stay with Freshwater
Vote 17-to-nine in favour of staying with corporation

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 20, 2010

HAY RIVER - The NWT's freshwater commercial fishers have decided - after nearly a year of soul-searching - to stay in a federal marketing system.

NNSL photo/graphic

Hay River fisherman Alex Maurice casts his vote on Dec. 14 on staying or leaving the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

On Dec. 14, the fishers voted 17-to-nine to remain with the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation.

"I'm happy with the decision," said Alex Richardson, the president of the NWT Fishermen's Federation, which organized the vote in Hay River.

Richardson said it was the right decision, because fishermen will be able to continue fishing next summer.

In addition, he said fishermen from outside the NWT who work on Great Slave Lake weren't going to come back unless they had a place to sell their fish.

Thirty-eight fishers were eligible to vote. They are certificate-holders - owners and operators of fishing vessels on Great Slave Lake - and several fishers with commercial licences on Kakisa Lake.

The marketing system, especially the pricing of fish, has been controversial among NWT commercial fishers for years.

Fish exported from the NWT must go through the corporation, which purchases fish, sells it and pays fishers.

The Dec. 14 vote was the third ballot this year on the issue of staying or leaving the corporation.

In February, fishers voted to quit the federal marketing system and the GNWT began a withdrawal process.

However, at an Aug. 27 meeting, 14 certificate-holders agreed to stay with the corporation in an unofficial vote. The NWT Fishermen's Federation then wrote Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Bob McLeod to ask for a stop to any moves to leave the corporation.

McLeod requested the third vote to clear up the issue.

Shawn Buckley, a third-generation fisherman in Hay River, voted on Dec. 14 against staying with the marketing corporation.

"Why should we support something that's not working?" he said, adding prices for fish have not changed much over the last 10 years, while expenses for fuel and the cost of living have gone up.

"I don't know if it makes any difference either way at this point," he said of the vote.

Buckley's theory of why fishers supported the marketing corporation is that many are near retirement age and are not willing to wait for any new private marketing system to be established.

"Would you rather just have Freshwater still there so you could still fish, or play the waiting game and have Freshwater out?" he said.

Despite that, Buckley would not say he was disappointed with the results of the vote.

"I'm happy that the fishermen got what they wanted," he said, adding he hopes the fishery will improve.

McLeod welcomed the results of the vote.

"In my view, the federation has spoken with this vote that it wants to remain with the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation," the minister said. "We've always taken the approach that the support of the fishermen involved in the NWT Fishermen's Federation was important in any decisions that we would make."

McLeod said the GNWT will not repeal the NWT Freshwater Fish Marketing Act to withdraw from the federal marketing system.

David Northcott, vice president of operations with the marketing corporation in Winnipeg, said the organization is pleased with the results of the vote.

"We were never the ones who wanted to leave," Northcott said. "In fact, even before there was a vote taken back in February, the corporation was working on a multi-year development plan to further develop the fishery, particularly on Great Slave Lake.

"Our mindset was always a long-term relationship there. We are glad to hear the vote went fairly convincingly in favour of staying with Freshwater."

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