The NWT’s Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) hopes a new fish processing plant and some new winter fisheries, among other things, will open up new opportunities for harvesters in the NWT — although at least one MLA says it’s federal red tape, and not a lack of supply or demand, keeping Northern fishers out of Southern markets.

Members of the Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment discussed these and related subjects during a Department of ITI briefing on the state of the territory’s fishing industry on May 9.

The GNWT’s plan for revitalizing the Slave Lake Commercial Fishery was published in March 2017. Its goals included expanding the NWT market for fish products, attracting more people to the sector, and restarting remote and winter fisheries.

In a presentation to the committee, ITI’s director of economic diversification Joel Holder explained that ensuring sustainable fishing in the territory also means making sure each sector is fished to its quota.

The territory is divided into multiple sectors, each with their own competitive fishing quotas. Most commercial fishing currently takes place in the western end of Great Slave Lake. Holder said new incentives are needed to encourage fishers to harvest elsewhere.

ITI is also working to revive winter fisheries along Great Slave Lake, which haven’t existed since 2008.

The department also hopes the opening of a new fish processing plant in Hay River will boost the territory’s fishing industry. Slated for completion in November of this year, the plant will produce a range of secondary products, including fertilizer, collagen, and fish oil, in addition to processing locally harvested fish. Having a processing plant that’s certified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) also opens new doors to Southern markets for Northern fishers.

Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland argued it’s not a lack of demand for Northern fish that’s keeping local fishers out of Southern markets, but too much red tape. She asked what the department would do to facilitate Northern fishers entering Southern markets.

Holder explained that fishers who want to sell to Southern markets need to have their product processed at a plant approved by the CFIA, and get an export license from the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC) to sell outside the territory. “There’s no limitation if you apply through the FFMC for that relief,” he said.

Cleveland responded that this process is complicated for fishers; If they undertook this process every time they contracted with a Southern vendor, “you’d spend your entire life doing paperwork and not fishing,” she said.

“So that’s the challenge that exists today.”

She asked if the GNWT would consider pulling out of the FMCC “so that we’re not being held back by the federal government,” and NWT fishers can more easily access Southern markets.

Minister of ITI Caroline Wawzonek responded that the department is keeping a close eye on changes that are coming to the FMCC: Currently, the Crown corporation is in the process of restructuring to provide more decision-making power to harvesters.

Deputy Minister of ITI Pamela Strand added, “We don’t truly know what that looks like yet, but it is working toward a harvester’s co-op.”

Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson asked if there would soon be new opportunities to enter into the Alberta market. Strand responded that the opening of the new processing plant should open this market up to NWT fishers.

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