A group of Great Slave Fishers says a recently signed memorandum with the NWT government can help pave the way toward doubling the amount of fish heading to market.
A fishery on the lake was first developed in the 1950s but saw a sharp decline in the past decade, even though fish remain abundant.
The new memorandum of understanding between the GNWT and Tu Cho Fishers’ Cooperative sets up the potential for a better return on investment in the industry, said cooperative spokesperson Troy Linington.
“We’re hoping for more job opportunities in not only the production area but the processing, marketing, and freighting,” he said.
“It’s a hope to keep more jobs in the North as opposed to creating more jobs down south like the way it is currently.”
Together, the memorandum and a broader GNWT fishing industry plan promise to provide extra resources such as more training for young fishers and incentives to attract people to the industry.
The NWT government says it will work on new sales and distribution agreements for the territory’s fish and work to expand the market.
Historically, fish from Great Slave Lake has been marketed and distributed through the Manitoba-based Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC).
FFMC is in the process of being overhauled.
While it sells fish to more than a dozen different countries on NWT fishers’ behalf, both the fishers and territorial government have complained that FFMC doesn’t always act in fishers’ best interests, nor secure the best-possible prices.
Linington said fish sold down south nets a return of approximately 30 cents on the dollar – “a very low return for the people out there actually doing the dangerous work and risking our lives.”
Tom Colosimo, the NWT government’s regional director of operations, said prices for fish are depressed due to Covid-19 but noted that even prior to the pandemic, prices weren’t great.
“Our role as the GNWT is to try to help the industry players move forward – in this particular case on the marketing side,” he said. “We work with them to access funding in order to undertake a marketing plan, which is in the works for Tu Cho.”
Linington said fishers are only taking about half of the fish that could be hauled in from Great Slave Lake. The territorial government believes the current 824,000 lbs of fish exported annually could rise to 1.5 million lbs with the introduction of a new fish plant to be constructed in Hay River.
“We’re hoping, with this plant, to attract more people to come stay in the Northwest Territories to live and make this their home,” said Linington. “And you know, get all the production out of this lake that we can.”
Colosimo said the plant has been sent back to the drawing board as its previous construction plan came in over-budget. He believes work should now begin by next spring.
“We are looking at going out to design-build in the very near future – within the next two weeks,” he said. “And we expect construction to start as soon as environmental conditions allow it.”