Fish kept frozen in a container at Hay River's old fish plant. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
The latest effort to grow the Northwest Territories’ stagnant commercial fishing industry involves cash incentives to employ new fishers and catch more fish.
Announced last week, the Commercial Fishery Support Pilot program – or CFSP – will pay bonuses of up to $15,000 depending on how much fish an applicant brings in.
The program offers up to $30,000 to bring in experienced fishers from outside the territory and a further $30,000 to pay NWT residents new to fishing, “to improve the probability that they establish or continue to participate in the fishing industry.”
There is a further $20,000 for projects that “introduce technology, equipment, processes and techniques that will increase the sustainability, productivity, safety and efficiency of commercial fisheries in the NWT,” and a fuel rebate based on the volume of fish caught.
Most commercial fishing in the NWT is centred on Great Slave Lake.
Following a strategy set out in 2017, the territorial government has invested in a new fish processing plant in Hay River and says it is working on new ways to get fish to market, including the possibility of breaking away from existing agreements that some fishers don’t like.
But one of the key factors holding back the industry is that people seem to want to do other jobs. Estimates suggest the amount of fishing taking place on the lake could double and there’d still be no danger of breaking existing quotas. There is plenty of room to fish, but not enough people are fishing.
The pilot program seeks to “defer costs, supplement prices, and encourage recruitment and innovation,” the territorial government stated in a press release.
“The commercial fishing industry in the NWT offers a wide variety of careers ranging from fishing, processing, and packaging to transportation and administration,” the territory asserted.
“As such, it is a cornerstone of a well-diversified economy as well as a staple of locally sourced food. By creating incentives, the CFSP will help spark the interest of new fishers and help to offset some of the challenges the industry has faced in recent years.”
Caroline Wawzonek, the NWT’s industry minister, said in a statement she believes the program will “help to reignite the interest of young fishers while supporting the industry through a changing economic landscape.”
Existing commercial fishers are invited to apply to the program, as are NWT industry groups, research bodies, and Indigenous governments and organizations.