Still No Free-Market for NWT Fisherman

The Northwest Territories is a strange place to be a commercial fisherman. The following example summarizes the absurdity - if you catch a fish you are prohibited from selling it to anyone outside of the NWT. Instead, you are required to either sell it to the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation, a crown corporation, or sell it locally (which in the NWT is a very small market of a few restaurants and a resident population of less than 45,000). This prohibition is rooted in section 20 of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. F-13 which provides that:

Trade in fish

20 (1) … no person, other than the Corporation or an agent of the Corporation, shall
(a) export fish from Canada;
(b) send, convey or carry fish from a participating province to another participating province or to any other province;
(c) in a participating province, receive fish for conveyance or carriage to a destination outside the province; or
(d) sell or buy, or agree to sell or buy, fish situated in a participating province for delivery in another participating province or any other province, or outside Canada.

In exchange, the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation is required to purchase fish from NWT fisherman – i.e there is a guaranteed market:

Corporation to buy all fish offered

(2) All fish lawfully fished by a fisherman and offered by the fisherman for sale to the Corporation for disposal in interprovincial or export trade shall be bought by the Corporation from the fisherman on such terms and conditions and for such price as may be agreed on by the Corporation and the fisherman subject to any applicable scheme for payment established and operated by the Corporation pursuant to section 23.

In 2011, Ontario withdrew from the Freshwater Fish Marketing Act in favour of an open market, followed by Saskatchewan in 2012, and Manitoba in 2017. Currently, the Northwest Territories is the only participating jurisdiction. Moreover, the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation has been plagued by governance issues and is headquartered in Winnipeg – some 2700km from Yellowknife.  

The concept of the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation dates back to 1969 – the year it was established. Then, it made sense. The North had limited infrastructure and almost no road access. Transactions didn't benefit from the internet and electronic banking.  Accordingly, for a small-scale fisherman operating in Canada’s North, it was difficult to export alone. 

Today however, a fisherman can catch trout or whitefish in the morning, broker a deal online over lunch, and have the fish on a truck to Calgary or Edmonton the same afternoon, and be paid via electronic transfer immediately. Moreover, the public in Canada’s South (and worldwide) have an ever increasing appetite for wild, fresh fish that isn’t full of antibiotics and hormones, and are willing to pay a premium for it. Exporting is comparatively easy, yet NWT fisherman are prevented from engaging in it, robbing the region of its entrepreneurial spirit. Likewise, potential consumers in Southern Canada cannot easily access Northern fish because there’s only one person selling it – the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation – and it has no vested interest in exploring new and emerging markets.

In summary, the NWT should end its participating in the Freshwater Fish Marketing Act. It isn’t serving the territory any good.

Fishing on Great Slave Lake 

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