Commercial fishers on Lake Winnipeg claim fishy science led province to clamp down on industry


Another study commissioned by commercial fishers on Lake Winnipeg casts doubt on the science behind provincial changes to the lucrative walleye fishery.

Since 2020, commercial fishers in Manitoba have been required to use gill nets with larger mesh that allows smaller walleye, sauger and other commercially valuable fish species to escape and spawn.

This result is fishers now catch larger fish the restaurant industry deems less desirable. The new nets also represent a capital cost some fishers found tough to justify during the pandemic, when demand for walleye — colloquially known as pickerel — plummeted.

'Unintended consequences'

A study produced by the Anishinabek/Ontario Fisheries Resource Centre — a non-profit research organization based out of North Bay, Ont. — suggests the change to a larger mesh size "had no meaningful effect" on the volume of walleye or sauger in Lake Winnipeg.

This study also suggests Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development does not conduct enough research or monitor commercial catch in enough detail to warrant the changes to mesh sizes.

"Going forward, the effects of changes in gear regulations should be examined further" using state-of-the-art science, the Ontario researchers concluded.

"Until then, it cannot be ruled out that there is a risk of perverse, unintended consequences as a result of the change in [maximum mesh size] for fish and fishers."

This study follows an earlier study that suggested there was less than a one per cent chance commercial fishers overfished walleye in Lake Winnipeg in 2019.