Manitoba Wildlife Federation calls for stricter regulations on commercial walleye harvests
By Riley Hastings
Lake Winnipeg’s walleye population is at risk of collapse due to unsustainable commercial fishing practices, according to the Manitoba Wildlife Federation (MWF). Recreational anglers are concerned for the future of Manitoba’s biggest walleye fishery.
The MWF held a news conference on Oct. 22, 2018, calling for stricter regulations on commercial walleye harvests. They blame the lack of regulations and the targeting of young, immature fish for the situation. About two dozen concerned anglers attended the conference.
Recreational anglers contribute around $102 million to Manitoba’s GDP annually. Jordan Manton, 28, has a cabin at Lester Beach on Lake Winnipeg. He estimates he fished around 130 days last year. Manton said commercial fishers take offence when recreational anglers complain about the state of the fishery.
“They say it’s how they make a living,” Manton said. “That doesn’t mean it’s right. That doesn’t mean they can keep on taking all the fish.”
Noel Linsey, communications manager for the MWF said the federation has received hate mail from a few commercial fishers. Linsey said one commercial fisher accused the MWF of purposely holding the news conference during the peak of the commercial fishing season to keep them from attending. He also accused the MWF of using fake news to start a war between recreational anglers and commercial fishers.
“Look at the data for yourself, it’s all up there,” Linsey said. “We’re not pulling these numbers out of nowhere.”
Female walleye can’t breed until they’re about six years old. In recent years, commercial fishers have started using smaller mesh sizes to net small, non-breeding walleye. According to recent studies by Sustainable Development, immature walleye made up almost half of the commercial harvest last year. Linsey said taking these fish to fill quotas is leading to an inevitable population crash.
Commercial harvesting on Lake Winnipeg currently uses a multispecies quota for walleye, sauger and whitefish. Since walleye (pickerel) has the highest market value, commercial fishers target them over other species. According to the MWF, the total lake quota of 7.2 million kilograms per year is between two to five times the sustainable yield of walleye.
“Commercial fishermen are just trying to feed their families. I get it, but in five years, there won’t be an industry,” Linsey said.
Linsey said the MWF is not attacking commercial fishermen. They are calling for changes in government quota and mesh-size rules to ensure the industry can continue.
“I’d love to bring commercial fishers to the table to help find a solution,” Linsey said.
Commercial fishing on Lake Winnipeg brings in $29 million to Manitoba’s GDP every year, provides 696 jobs, and generates $8 million in tax revenue.