Ahead of new plant opening, NWT examines how best to sell its fish

Boats at Hay River's Fisherman's Wharf in August 2019
Boats at Hay River's Fisherman's Wharf in August 2019. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

The territorial government is developing a strategy to market and sell NWT-branded fish when a new processing plant opens in Hay River.

The GNWT expects the territory’s commercial fish production to more than double, from 600,000 lbs per year to around 1.5 million lbs, once the plant reaches full production.

Building a market for all of that fish is “paramount” to the industry’s success, the territory says in a document soliciting proposals from marketing firms.

Construction of the fish plant has faced delays but it’s expected to be operational in around a year’s time.



The new plant is central to a longer-term ambition of wresting control of NWT fish sales from the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC), a federally run agency based in Winnipeg.

FFMC has been notoriously underwhelming for NWT fishers.

Dealing with FFMC has its benefits, as it sells to more than a dozen different countries on NWT fishers’ behalf, but both the fishers and the territorial government have long complained that FFMC doesn’t always act in fishers’ best interests, nor secure the best-possible prices.

In 2019, a federal panel recommended replacing FFMC with a new version led by a federation of regional fishers and fish processors.



The new Hay River fish plant is the NWT’s attempt to get its fish to market without the crown corporation’s help. The plant, which replaces an FFMC-owned plant, will let the NWT process fish without having to rely on FFMC to sell it.

That opens up a big opportunity. At the moment, NWT fish arriving in Manitoba is mixed in with fish from various other places and then sold on as Canadian fish.

Fish processed at the new plant will be sold as NWT fish rather than Canadian fish, allowing the territory’s fishers to distinguish their products on the market.

But that also carries with it a risk: the territory has to make sure that NWT branding is attractive enough to sustain and then grow sales as more fish is produced.

“The intention of this change is to achieve higher prices and better access to Canadian export markets,” the territorial government states in its request for marketing firms’ proposals, published this month.

“Through increased sales and market share of NWT fish product, there will be significant economic benefits to [NWT fishers], a large majority of which are Indigenous.”

The GNWT expects a new sales and marketing strategy for the fish to rely on two pillars of research.

The first focuses on finding a way to grow market share for NWT-branded whitefish and trout, which make up the bulk of the Great Slave Lake catch.

The second will look at how to set the best price and how to diversify products, for example through selling fish to be canned, smoked, or turned into fertilizer or fish oil.

The strategy is likely to be finalized later this year.