Group lobbying for restoration of commercial fishing

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

The Province of Alberta shut down commercial fishing six years ago. And ever since then, proponents of that type of fishing have been agitating to get it back.

It hasn’t happened, but the newly-reconstituted Zone E Commercial Fishermen’s Association is actively lobbying for it. They’ve got a plan that might make it more palatable and perhaps some reason for optimism.

“The UCP said they would open it up when they got elected,” says new Zone E president Reg Merkley of Assineau.

No results yet, he says, and the group has had trouble getting the government to respond, but it is working at it.

What they’re proposing is a different model than what existed before. Small scale for starters, Merkley says, with sales only in Alberta.

Processing proposed for the existing fish co-op plant in Faust. The target species would be whitefish, which apparently exist in abundance, and are believed (at least by the commercial fishermen) to be responsible for keeping the jack and pickerel (walleye) numbers down.

Merkely says he’s been out a couple of times on net pulls with people with domestic fishing licenses.

“They were getting about 300 lbs. per net,” he says. “And big ones.”

The proposal is for a bigger mesh size (than previously), so as to get the big whitefish and avoid incidental catch of walleye and pike.

Merkley says the province’s Fisheries department “is dragging its feet” and it’s no surprise. Supervising the commercial fishery was a huge amount of work for them back in the day and they aren’t keen to return to that, he says. That’s why it would have to be done differently if it resumes, and that’s what the association is proposing.

The solution, if there is one, has to come from the political side.

“If we can get them talking,” Merkley says. “Start small – see how it goes.”
Merkley can be reached at 780-369-3621.

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