After a long delay, the Saskatchewan Co-operative Fisheries held its annual general meeting this past weekend.
The meeting is usually held in the spring but was delayed because of a lack of government funding.
Treasurer Marie Hildebrandt says in the end the co-op received about $25,000 from the Ministry of Environment – about of half of what they usually get.
She says the reduced amount might seem like a lot of money but really isn’t when hotel rooms, food costs and renting a facility for the meeting come into play.
Over the course of the meeting in Prince Albert, the commercial fishers discussed the continued need for a processing plant in the province, the reinstatement of the freight transport subsidy and more financial compensation for contracts signed with the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation.
SCFL had collected about half a million dollars for a processing plant in Prince Albert from local cooperatives, First Nations and the Northern Lights Casino but the project had to be shelved and the money returned after the province reneged on $350,000 in conditional support.
Hildebrandt says the fish processing plant is still very much needed and would cost between $8 and $10 million to build.
The fact that zebra mussels have recently been found in Lake Winnipeg was also discussed.
The striped mussels are a well-known aquatic pest that have a tendency to disrupt local eco-systems.
Hildebrandt says so far zebra mussels have not been found in any of Saskatchewan’s waterways and they want to keep it that way.
“So, anyone from Manitoba, please don’t bring your mussels here. That’s on your fishing gear, your boats, anything that goes into the water, to make sure it’s well cleaned.”
Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation director of field operations Dave Bergunder was one of the presenters at the meeting.
It has been almost two years since the Saskatchewan Cooperative Fishers left FFMC believing its members could obtain higher prices on the open market.
Nevertheless Bergunder says they still do a lot of business with Saskatchewan commercial fishers through contracts.
“Basically, I would think 99 per cent of all fishermen in Saskatchewan have signed contracts with Freshwater Fish. So, they’ve now signed a minimum of two to five-year contracts with us.”
Another hot topic of discussion was FFMC’s discontinuation of second payments to provincial fishers.
Bergunder says since the Saskatchewan Cooperative Fishers are no longer a member of the organization, they don’t qualify for profit sharing and there are no plans to revisit this anytime soon.
“The fact that the Saskatchewan government has removed Saskatchewan from the Fresh Water act, they are no longer members and therefore they don’t share in our profits because they are not members.”
Nevertheless, Hildebrandt says SCFL disagrees because provincial fishers still contribute a lot to the bottom line of FFMC and should receive the second payment when they sign contracts with the organization.
“But they need our fish. So, they kind of have to keep our fisherman happy now because they need Saskatchewan fish.”
Changes to unemployment insurance regulations that should benefit some commercial fishers were also discussed.
Under the old system, 25 per cent was deducted from the insurable earnings of all commercial fishers but this has now been changed.
Type one fishers, those who own their own boat and equipment, will still have the 25 per cent deducted for capital expenditures.
However, this deduction will no longer be applied to fishers who are strictly employees in the industry.
At the AGM, SCFL also decided to reduce its board from nine to seven members and elected its six directors from the various regions in northern Saskatchewan.
About 38 delegates attended the meeting.
SCFL represents roughly 500 commercial fishers in the province.