New Government Initiatives to Manage Lake Winnipeg Fishery

Read below to see the most recent News Release from the Manitoba Wildlife Federation

March 25, 2019

MANITOBA WILDLIFE FEDERATION AND PARTNERS ENCOURAGED BY NEW GOVERNMENT INITIATIVES TO MANAGE LAKE WINNIPEG FISHERY 

WINNIPEG, MB:The Manitoba Wildlife Federation (MWF) and its partners in the Lake Winnipeg Walleye Working Group are pleased with the Government of Manitoba’s commitment to manage the Lake Winnipeg fishery more sustainably, as outlined in the Government news release of March 11, 2019. “We believe that the initiatives outlined in the Government’s news release, including reductions in the commercial fishing quota, instituting a minimum mesh size to protect young, immature fish and changes to angling regulations are steps in the right direction to help reverse the decline in the walleye and sauger fishery on Lake Winnipeg,” said Dr. Brian Kotak, Managing Director, Manitoba Wildlife Federation. “The groups involved in the Working Group are also pleased to see the Government acknowledge that there is a problem with the current quota level and management system in place to govern commercial fishing on the lake.”

MWF and the Working Group partners raised concerns last year about the threat to the Lake Winnipeg fishery and advised that a science-based approach is required for setting lake quotas for the three commercial species being fished – walleye, sauger and whitefish. The top recommendation of the 2011 Quota Review Task Force, an expert panel of scientists and fishers that reported to the Minister of the day, was to establish separate quotas for each species. Scientists such as Dr. Scott Forbes of the University of Winnipeg, agrees with the Task Force’s assessment of the fishery and states “a multi-species quota encourages overfishing of the most economically lucrative species, which for decades has been walleye.” This has severely impacted the walleye fishery. Forbes also calls for the current total quota to be lowered substantially. “The new quota buy-back will certainly help, but it is only a start,” he added. “The quota must be reduced further for the fishery to be sustainable.” This viewpoint is not only shared by the MWF and its partners, but also by provincial fisheries managers and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, notes Kotak.   

A key component of the proposed changes is the establishment of a minimum mesh size of 3.75 inches for most of the lake and in all seasons. Other mesh sizes larger than this will still be allowed to be used, up to the current maximum, thus allowing the industry to still continue using slightly larger mesh nets. “A 3.75 inch mesh will protect sauger and smaller walleye, which have not reached spawning age,” notes Forbes. “As the first rule of fisheries sustainability is to ensure that fish have a chance to spawn at least once.” Although new nets are routinely purchased every year or two and many fishers utilize a number of mesh sizes, MWF and its partners realize that there may be a cost to those fishers who are currently using predominantly smaller mesh nets. We are therefore asking the Government to provide a financial program to help bridge this gap. 

The lake’s fishery needs to be managed sustainably for all. “Angling for walleye on Lake Winnipeg contributes significantly to the provincial economy,” said Paul Conchatre, President of the Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association. “Anglers spent $220 million in the last two years alone on everything from fuel, tackle and food to accommodations on angling ventures for Lake Winnipeg walleye. That is just for one species, and pretty much just on the south basin of Lake Winnipeg.” 

There are almost 200,000 angling licenses sold in Manitoba annually. “The Government needs to acknowledge and account for this economic engine when thinking about the need to better manage Lake Winnipeg,” said Don Lamont, noted Manitoba angling educator and celebrity.  “We believe that the steps recently outlined by the Government will put us on that much needed path to a sustainable future for the commercial industry, anglers, subsistence fishers and the fishery itself.”

The Lake Winnipeg Walleye Working Group consists of individuals from MWF, Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association, Fish Futures, Walleye Anglers Association of Manitoba, Hooked Magazine, Seven Oaks Game & Fish Association, The Wildlife Society, and other individuals interested in the well-being of the lake’s fishery.

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