On April 17th, the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) hosted a meeting of well over a hundred fishers representing the freshwater fishing industry from across the province. This meeting was the result of direction given by the fishers in the previous February 13th emergency fishing meeting that took place at the Clarion Hotel in Winnipeg.
The Metis Nation, First Nations, and non-Aboriginal fishers, their families, and communities rely heavily on a sustainable fishing industry. “This is one of the few traditional economies that still can provide the communities with a vibrant future,“ President Chartrand went on to say. “In this meeting we were here to take the next steps in bringing together the fishers to build a cooperative business owned by and operated for the fishers.”
At the meeting presentations and the discussions were focused on developing a co-op to meet the needs of the producers, which are the fishers, and other the members. What has been identified important in earlier consultations and meetings by fishers includes creating a sustainable and democratic business model that will help stabilize prices and provide new markets. As well this is the opportunity to look at how to use the profits for redistribution back to the co-op members including health insurance and pension contributions.
A co-op model is not a strange or foreign to the fishers. In the meeting, it was confirmed what had been heard from the earlier meetings. Some fishers wanted to move forward on what is called a Multi – Stakeholder – Cooperative. This type of co-op has the ability to have the participation of a part or the whole of the economic chain from producer to consumer. This may include buyer and investor classes. The classic producer co-op is also a possibility.
A large cooperative can provide fisher advocacy on issues that impact the fisheries such as the Lake Manitoba - Lake St. Martin Channel and other water diversions affecting water levels and cycles, invasive species, basic research, needed investments, and the changes in the environment.
Following three very informative presentations there were breakout sessions to get everyone a chance to contribute to the next steps. The presentations themselves were on the topics of the background of the co-ops, how to incorporate, and ideas for next steps. The sessions discussed: What are the objectives? What would things look like for the future? And how do we include everybody who needs to be there?
“We are here to ensure a sustainable, healthy and profitable fishery,” said President Chartrand. “The work at the meeting was about how to grow the markets and how to promote a sustainable fishing industry for the benefit of the fishers. That is why the co-operative model is being explored. Right now this is a $62 million industry and, if we can establish new markets, we can make this into a $200 - $300 million industry,” he went on to say. “As long as everyone works together with one voice this is a business model that will never fail.”