A January haul of fish. Photo posted by Cody McCallum on Ile a la Crosse Fish Company Facebook page.

The future of Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC) was questioned at a regional gathering organized by the Ile-a-la-Crosse Fish Company on Tuesday.

Fish Company CEO Wendell Desjarlais said he hadn’t anticipated such skepticism about FFMC possibly “not existing anymore” after Manitoba moves to an open market later this year, leaving the Northwest Territories as the only western jurisdiction that hasn’t exited FFMC’s marketing monopoly.

Desjarlais said he hopes FFMC is around for years to come, especially since his company expects to sell some of its excess fish to FMCC once its processing plant opens, possibly before this winter’s fishing season.

Buffalo River’s John Montrand is among the fishermen who were seeking reassurances that FMCC is still viable despite some well-documented turbulent times.

He left feeling optimistic, saying “it sounds like they’re going to be around for a while.”

Meanwhile, Dave Bergunder with FFMC said “it’s business as usual as we move forward into the future… we plan to have the same type of relationship with Manitoba fishers that we have with the Saskatchewan fishers.”

He said they’ve been working closely with the Fish Company, including in the new facility’s design. He said they’ll be working together to build capacity for the processing plant and “in our partnership plan they are going to be processing product that meet market requirements that we have and we’ll be buying product from the Ile-a-la-Crosse Fish Company.”

The Fish Company’s Vice President Peter Durocher says once the plant is started up, it will provide more benefits, value and negotiating power for the region’s fishers. He pointed out how Chinese and Manitoba fish buyers are interested in signing an agreement with the Fish Company.

“We gotta be careful because we have to make sure that in the end we don’t give away what we worked for all our lives,” he said.

Fishermen, politicians, and fish buying interests were all in attendance and there was also a presentation on a program to enhance financial supports for the region’s commercial fishers.