May 1, 2014 5:13 pm

Fishers, boaters protest planned harbour closures on Lake Winnipeg

Fishing boats could stay land locked if the government closes Gimli harbour to fight zebra mussels

Ashley Carter/Global News

WINNIPEG – Four popular harbours on Lake Winnipeg could close later this month as part of the province’s fight against zebra mussels.

Gimli, Winnipeg Beach, Balsam Bay and Arnes harbours will close for three to four weeks  if the Manitoba government gets the green light from the federal government to spend $500,000 putting liquid potash in the water to try to eradicate the invasive species.

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“We are looking at an initiative to make sure that potash is applied to four harbours on Lake Winnipeg. We expect that would happen between mid-May to mid-June roughly. That may overlap with the fishing season, so it’s critical that those who fish on Lake Winnipeg be able to continue fishing uninterrupted,” said Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh.

Zebra mussels are an invasive species that latch onto solid objects, disrupt the food chain and clogging water supply pipes. The mussels were found in Lake Winnipeg last fall and spread by attaching themselves to boats.

While fishermen understand the reasoning behind getting rid of the invasive species, they are frustrated with the timing.

Mid-May to Mid-June is prime fishing season.

“We have about a two-week window when we can make our living and this is when the most fish are around, and when they finish spawning is when [the fish] move north and into deeper water,” said commercial fisherman Eric Goodman.

The 55 fishermen who call Gimli harbour home could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars if their fishing season is cut short.

“You have a fall fishing season and a spring fishing season, so that’s like going up to you and taking away half your income, sorry see you later, sorry you can’t pay your mortgage, this is your short-term pain,” said Jocelyn Burzuik of the Gimli Harbour Authority.

Along with the fishing industry, other businesses could see financial trouble: the local marina won’t be able to sell gas for the boats, the Gimli Yacht Club won’t be able to host recreation programs, and the Harbour Master Office won’t gain any boat launch or user fees.

With nowhere to store all of the commercial and recreational boats, fishermen could be forced to put their boats in other waters, making fishing competition even stiffer.

“To wait a month to get the boat in the water with the short season we have I think is a bit much,” said William Wallace, a recreational sailor.

The government said dumping potash into open water won’t pose a health risk.

“There were a number of options that we looked at in terms of what we could use to eradicate zebra mussels, and liquid potash, or potassium chloride, was one of the most environmentally benign options that exist,” said Laureen Janusz of Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship.

Gimli Harbour will host a public meeting Thursday night and Friday morning to get more answers about how this will affect them.

The provincial government still needs to get approval from the federal government.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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