Several provincial fishing groups say Lake Winnipeg is in danger of losing several of its key fish species if drastic action isn’t taken.
The Manitoba Wildlife Federation (MWF) says gross mismanagement by various provincial governments means the lake’s fish stocks – especially walleye and sauger – are nearing collapse.
“The issue of declining fish stocks in Lake Winnipeg is a direct result of commercial fishing policies that are not based on science,” said Dr. Brian Kotak, Managing Director of the MWF.
“The harvest levels are unsustainable.“
The problem lies in the current management system, said Kotak, which allows commercial fishers to catch a maximum quota no matter the health or number of fish in the lake.
Market prices for walleye means commercial fishers target those fish especially, said Kotak.
“The commercial catches of walleye from 2000 to 2010 reached record levels of over 5 million kg but were based on a house of cards – one strong year class in 2001 – which could not last,” said Dr. Scott Forbes, an ecologist at the University of Winnipeg.
“Once the 2001 walleye had aged out of the fishery, catches began to decline sharply starting in 2012 and have fallen to under 3 million kg today.”
The decline is actually greater, said Forbes, because commercial fishers are now targeting smaller, immature walleye, most of whom have not had a chance to even spawn.
Large walleye in the lake have declined 85 per cent and medium walleye have declined about two-thirds since 2012, he added.
For sauger, the decline is even steeper – 96 per cent since its peak in the first half of the 20th century.
Should the commercial industry collapse, it will mean a direct hit of $102 million to the province’s GDP and $52 million in taxes yearly, said Forbes.
The best way to promote a turnaround in the lake would mean a “flexible, science-based system where harvest levels depend on the state of the fishery,” said Forbes.
“There would be plenty of fish for everyone with proper management in place,” said Forbes.
The group is holding a rally at the Manitoba Legislative grounds Tuesday at noon.
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