As a member of an informal working group concerned with the state of the fishery on Lake Winnipeg, MLOA and several partners (Fish and Wildlife Enhancement Fund, Fish Futures, Manitoba Wildlife Federation, Travel Manitoba, Hooked Magazine, Seven Oaks Game & Fish, Walleye Anglers Association of Manitoba, The Wildlife Society and Kamooki Lures) conducted an economic impact study on the value of the recreational Lake Winnipeg walleye fishery. The study was conducted by Probe Research on behalf of our partners. Over the two years of the study (2016-18), anglers spent over $220 million, contributing a whopping $52 million to Manitoba’s GDP, $44 million in wages and supporting almost 1,400 jobs (person years of employment). The contribution of the recreational anglers and tourism to the economy for just one species (walleye) dwarfs that of the commercial fishing industry by more than 3 times, while catching only 4% of walleye biomass (and more than 50% of those fish are released) compared to the commercial industry.
From these figures, it is critical that the fishery is managed in a sustainable manner to maximize the value to the provincial economy of both the recreational and commercial sectors. However, the fishery continues to face challenges under the current multispecies quota system, including a quota level that far exceeds what is sustainable. There has been good news over the last year though and things are moving in the right direction. The Government of Manitoba has taken bold steps to reduce the overall quota through a voluntary buy-back initiative. In an initial phase last year, more than 500,000 kg of quota were purchased by the province and permanently retired (at a cost of $5.5 million) and another phase of buy-back is coming this year. In addition, instituting a 3 ½ inch minimum mesh size will allow more immature walleye to escape harvest and hopefully grow to spawning age. A commitment to work towards independent certification of the Lake Winnipeg fishery is also a positive step forward by the government. All of these actions will move the fishery to a more sustainable future, and It is in the interest of recreational anglers, the commercial fishers and our own tourism industry that the crown jewel of our fisheries in Manitoba is managed sustainably for future generations. MLOA will continue to advocate for the resource and the jobs that rely upon it.
On January 9, MLOA met with Scott Jocelyn and Jerry Weir of the Manitoba Hotel Association to discuss the state of the fishery and its importance to the hotel sector. Ice fishers on Lake Winnipeg, especially Americans, fill many of the hotels from January to March each winter. The importance of this influx cannot be understated or ignored. In fact, on an ice fishing trip on Lake Winnipeg last winter, MLOA Executive Director, Brian Kotak, overheard several American anglers laughing and saying that “the south basin of Lake Winnipeg in winter is the third largest city in North Dakota”. Those export tourism dollars coming into Manitoba are important. Andrea Gruyters, General Manager of Canalta Hotel in Selkirk, couldn’t agree more. In the Probe Research report she indicates that “during the fishing season, I could probably fill another two hotels”. All members of our industry that guide anglers on Lake Winnipeg or the Red River (or even other water bodies such as Lake Manitoba) should take the time to let your MLA know how important a well-managed fishery is to our economy and our sector, give due credit for the actions being taken by the government and to Insist on continuing to adhere to a science-based approach to fisheries management. Write to the Premier and cc it to your MLA, or to meet with your MLA. It is important!