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Continuing to raise concerns about Lake Winnipeg and the state of the Sauger Fishery

On Wednesday November 7, to spoke in the Manitoba Legislature on a "Grievance" to speak of my concerns about the Pallister government's lack of action with respect to the situation of Lake Winnipeg. My speech is below:


Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): I rise today on a grievance.
      The Minister of Sustainable Development (Ms.  Squires) is not taking the situation of Lake Winnipeg seriously enough. I am passionate about Lake Winnipeg, as are many Manitobans. It is our great lake. It is at the centre of Manitoba. It is, for many Manitobans, the heart of our province. We need to look after it well.
      In early October The Interlake Spectator reported, and I quote: Lake Winnipeg commercial fishers say they're being inundated with algae and sewage near Grindstone, between the lake's north and south basins, and it's like nothing they have ever seen before. One fisher commented: It's like a frigging sewage lagoon out here.
      They are very concerned that this is due to continuing pollution of the lake by untreated and poorly treated sewage from the city of Winnipeg. Fishers from this area tell me that the fish are avoiding the region. This is likely because the conditions are using up oxygen and creating a vast dead zone where oxygen is depleted. Fish cannot live in such zones and move elsewhere. Fishers are naturally very concerned. They tell me they think the size of this dead zone, which is north of the south basin, may be as large as the entire south basin. That is a very large area.
* (14:40)
      Fishers in the south basin tell me that they are catching very large numbers of whitefish and tullibee. It is possible that the large concentrations of these fish in the south basin are happening because they are being forced to mood–move out of the large dead zone just north of the south basin.
      I am very surprised that the Minister of Sustainable Development has not reported to the Legislature on this very concerning situation. My grievance, in part, is that the minister has not reported on what is happening and what her department has found. We should expect no less.
      Second, I will discuss the situation of the sauger fishery, an important fishery. One by one, populations of sauger have become functionally extinct on other large lakes. Lake Winnipeg is the last remaining significant commercial fishery for sauger anywhere in the world, and there is a concern that sauger on Lake Winnipeg are now threatened.
      I'll review the history of the sauger in the six large lakes of North America where there have been commercial fisheries.
      On Lake Erie the peak sauger catch was in 1916. It was 2.8 million kilos. The sauger catch was down to 80 per cent of its peak in 1921; to 50 per cent into '32; 15 per cent in '39; 20 per cent in '43; 10 per cent in '46; and was functionally extinct in Lake Erie by 1954.
      On Lake Huron the peak sauger catch was in 1930. It was down to 80 per cent in '35; 25 per cent in '36; 10 per cent in '37; 2.5 per cent in '47; and sauger were essentially extinct in Lake Huron by 1962.
      On Lake Superior the peak sauger catch was in 1952. The catch was down to 80 per cent of its peak in '58; 50 per cent in '63; 10 per cent in '67; 5  per cent in 1970; and sauger were essentially extinct in Lake Superior by 1974.
      On Lake Winnipegosis the peak sauger catch was in 1941. By 1966 it was down to 80 per cent of its peak. In '70 it was down to 20 per cent; in '87 it was down to 5 per cent; and sauger were essentially extinct in Lake Winnipegosis in 1994 under the watchful eye of the Gary Filmon Conservative government.
      On Lake Manitoba the peak sauger catch was in 1941. It was 1.75 million kilograms, the third largest sauger fishery in North America. The catch was  down to 40 per cent of its peak by 1946; to  30  per cent in '88; to 25 per cent in '91; to 10  per cent in '95; to 5 per cent in 2000; and sauger were essentially extinct in Lake Manitoba in 2007 under the watchful eye of the Gary Doer government.
      On Lake Winnipeg the peak catch of sauger was in 1942. It was 4.6 kilograms. By 1951 the catch was down to 70 per cent of the peak. In '88 it was 40  per cent. In 1995, under the watchful eye of Gary Filmon, the catch was down to 30 per cent of its peak. In '99 it was down to 20 per cent. In 2010, under the watchful eye of the then-NDP government, the catch was down to 10 per cent. In 2005 it was down to 5 per cent.
      We do not know how much longer the sauger have on Lake Winnipeg, but certainly with the trend that has happened, unless there is action the likelihood is that sauger will be, like all the other lakes before it, gone from Lake Winnipeg.
      The Minister of Sustainable Development (Ms.  Squires) has said repeatedly that her government will ensure that we have a sustainable fishery for Manitoba. She has said we will not ignore the scientists like the former NDP government. She has said we are taking action to ensure that we do have sustainable fisheries here in Manitoba.
      Well, Madam Speaker, it is time to take that action now. A recovery plan for sauger on Lake Winnipeg is needed for both the commercial fishery and the sport fishery.
      For the sport fishery, which is important in the Red River, which leads into Lake Winnipeg, there are records of master-angler-sized sauger caught in  the Red River from 1987 to the present. From '87 to '92 the average number of master-angler-sized sauger caught annually was 35. From '92 to 2015 the average number of master-angler-sized sauger had fallen by 80 per cent to six. In 2016 and '17, the total for the two years was two, for an average of one per year or a decrease of more than 95 per cent.
      Madam Speaker, it is possible that sauger could be undercounted because fisheries are not targetting sauger or because some fishers label sauger as baby walleye to get a better price, but with the numbers I present, coupled with the histories of the sauger fisheries on other major lakes in Canada, it is very clear that a recovery plan is needed for the good of all fishers and for the health of Lake Winnipeg.
      One additional observation suggests that sauger are threatened. Increased catches of perch and small walleye from 2014 to '17 suggest increased use of small mesh nets. Even while the catch of perch and small walleye during this period went up, the catch of sauger did not, suggesting that the reservoir of sauger is smaller than generally recognized.

      Madam Speaker, the commercial sauger fisheries on lakes Erie, Huron, Superior, Winnipegosis and Manitoba are all gone. Lake Winnipeg is the last major commercial fishery for sauger left.
      The Minister of–for Sustainable Development has said she will act. She must provide a sauger recovery plan and take steps to ensure the sustainability of the sauger fishery on Lake Winnipeg and the sustainability of Lake Winnipeg itself. It is time she does. Manitoba will–Liberals will be watching to see if she can keep her word that she will not ignore Lake Winnipeg like the former NDP government.
      Part of what is needed is to have much better information on the fish in Lake Winnipeg. Report after report has stressed that we don't have the basic data to know precisely what's happening on Lake Winnipeg. Both fishers and scientists to whom I talked stressed that getting such data is important. Collecting this information is a public good, and the costs should not be on the backs of the fishers themselves.
      Fishers I've talked with have suggestions. Fishers in the south basin catching whitefish and tullibee are arguing that there are fewer walleye and sauger being caught because they aren't targeting these fish.
      They tell me, for example, that there isn't much use putting in a three-inch-mesh net because it would be totally overloaded with tullibee, so they are using larger nets. It would be reasonable, as some have suggested, to limit the size of smaller nets now to protect the young walleye and the sauger.
      Fishers also tell me that many of the sauger are now in the Red River. Sauger are migratory fish and they like flowing rivers, particularly this time of year. They tell me it's important to put in place some restrictions on catching sauger in the Red River.

      I urge the Minister of Sustainable Development (Ms. Squires) to put in place, as quickly as possible, collection of better scientific data on the status of the fish in Lake Winnipeg and to work with all fishers to move to eco-certification to ensure the sustainability of the Lake Winnipeg fishery into the future.

      Fishers are on the front line. It is to the benefit of all commercial and sport fishers, and to all Manitobans, that Lake Winnipeg is looked after very well. We need to look after Lake Winnipeg, and the time is now.

      Thank you. Merci. Miigwech.


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