New co-op to help Canada’s indigenous fish harvesters market their catch

The co-op is being formed in Manitoba, where the government’s withdrawal from a crown corporation has left the industry struggling

A co-operative is being formed in Manitoba, Canada, by a group of 100 fish harvesters to market their product.

The group has set up a steering committee of seven people to form the co-op, and has sought legal counsel for advice on the model at a meeting in Winnipeg.

The meeting included a presentation by Co-operatives First, which promotes the model among rural and indigenous communities in western Canada, and the province’s umbrella body, the Manitoba Cooperative Association.

Co-operatives First says there is also interest in the new venture from outside the province, including Saskatchewan and Ontario.

Winnipeg Free Press reports that the co-op hopes to fill the gap left by the withdrawal of the Manitoba government from the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation, a federal crown corporation which is required to buy, process and market all freshwater fish offered to it by fishers in Manitoba.

The government’s withdrawal, based on claims that the corporation was a monopoly, was aimed at opening up the market – but critics say it has left fishermen struggling.

The new co-op has the backing of the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF), which represents the province’s Métis people. It says 90% of commercial fishers are Métis or aboriginal, and has given C$100,000 in seed money for start-up costs.

MMF president David Cartrand told the Winnipeg Free Press: “The co-op is going to be for fishermen, owned by fishermen. These people, it’s in their blood to be fishermen – and they want to pass it onto their kids.

“We supported the province in opening up the market but then they left the fishers on their own. These people are struggling to make ends meet.”

Among the co-op’s plans are the development of exports to China, where demand for fish is outstripping supply.

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