Fishing Bycatch: A Wasted Food Source
Dean Rennie of the University of Manitoba along with Gerald McKay, a fisherman from Grand Rapids, Yvonne Ballantyne, president of the Grand Rapids Fisherman’s Co-op, and David Northcott of Winnipeg Harvest, are working on a project that would see freshwater fish feeding the hungry without jeopardizing the revenue of fishermen. Currently, fishers work in a quota system; a limit is set on the amount of fish that can be caught.When fishing, it is impossible not to catch non-target animals or species that often have a lower market price, resulting in bycatch. Although illegal, fishermen are finding themselves throwing whitefish ashore or back into the water. Pickerel is sold at approximately $4.00/kg, whereas whitefish is sold for $1.50/kg, so for fishers including bycatch in their quotas is simply not financially feasible and giving it away is illegal.
Recognizing the immense waste caused by disposing of bycatch, the group is proposing to offer bycatch to Winnipeg Harvest to be distributed as a nutritious supplement to food hampers. In a survey conducted with Grand Rapids fishers, of the 21% of fishers who responded, it was found that 3270 kg of freshwater fish are thrown away each day. In support of the proposed project, the Grand Rapids Fisherman’s Co-op has committed to supply the Winnipeg Harvest with 15,000 lbs of otherwise wasted whitefish per week throughout the spring and fall fishing seasons. The proposal suggests that fishers would be paid half the market price of the fish and the other half would be in the form of a donation tax receipt from the Winnipeg Harvest. Funding for the project has been requested from the provincial government with the intention of acquiring matching from private corporations and foundations.
While the project would benefit the fishers in Grand Rapids by increasing their profits, food hampers distributed by the Winnipeg Harvest would also be enhanced. Currently, Winnipeg Harvest distributes 15,000 hampers per month in Manitoba with only 2.1% protein in each hamper, way below the recommended intake of at least 10% of one’s diet. Furthermore, enabling the project would allow for better data collection of bycatch quantities. At present there is very little information concerning the total amount of bycatch that is disposed of at Grand Rapids. In addition, allowing the fishers from Grand Rapids to share their catch restores cultural values that encourage sharing with community. Unfortunately, the project has been denied funding and the necessary changes to the quota management system. According to some, changing the quota and allowing sale of fish to Winnipeg Harvest opens up the possibility of overfishing to purposely catch bycatch for profit. However, allowing for sale at half the market value is not enough incentive to go beyond quotas given the market price. Although the Manitoba Water Stewardship is reluctant to change, the group suggests that the public talk to the government and voice concerns over the immense waste of freshwater fish that is continuing.
Find out more by listening to this radio interview on CKUW.
This article was written by University of Manitoba student Stephanie Au after Dean Rennie made a presentation in her Critical Thinking and the Environment Class.