Lake Erie fishermen suing government over quotas
Written by The Windsor Star   
Tuesday, 18 September 2007 05:29

Two Lake Erie fishermen say they are taking the Ontario government to court to challenge how fishing quotas are set, because the American sports fishing industry is being favoured at the expense of Ontario's commercial fishing industry.

"With further reductions next year, it's just going to devastate me," Willie Cronheimer said Monday at a news conference held at the Wheatley harbour.

The 49-year-old Wheatley boat captain is one of the fishermen taking the province to court on behalf of the commercial fishing industry in Ontario.

He said this year's allowable catch was cut 45 per cent for perch and 30 per cent for walleye in the area of Lake Erie off Essex County. He estimates that for his boat, that reduction amounts to about $300,000 worth of fish he can't catch.

Cronheimer is afraid he'll lose workers and perhaps his business if the cuts keep coming. He said there's lots of fish in the lake but the way the quotas are set favours the American sports fishing industry.

John Cooper, a Lake Erie Committee spokesman with the Ministry of Natural Resources, said Monday he couldn't comment since legal action has begun.

He said it's too early to know what next year's quotas will be. But when quotas were announced in March, Cooper said the quotas could be lowered again in 2008.

Peter Meisenheimer, executive director with the Ontario Commercial Fisheries' Association, said the Lake Erie committee that decides the quotas is dominated by the U.S. The committee makes decisions by consensus and consists of representatives from Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources and their counterparts in, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Meisenheimer said even though issues aren't decided by a majority vote, it's still a committee with four Americans and one Canadian so decisions tend to be made that the majority want. And he said the commercial fishery is not allowed to take part in the discussion.

He said the committee decisions are "driven by" an agenda in the United States to maximize the sale of sport fishing licences.

On Friday, lawyers representing  Cronheimer and Port Stanley fisherman Larry Jackson filed a notice of application for judicial review with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. Meisenheimer said the legal documents ask for the quotas to go no lower while the Ontario fishing industry's arguments are considered.

"If we don't get this, then you are going to see I guess what the economists euphemistically describe as consolidation the hard way. People are going to be forced out, jobs are going to be lost and it will not be a good thing for this community or the other communities around the lake where the fishing industry is part of the history."

The Ontario commercial fishing industry, which is based mostly in Wheatley and Kingsville, catches fish worth about $30 million a year at the docks. But once processed in plants that also process fish from around the world, the industry's annual value jumps to more than $200 million a year, Meisenheimer said. The industry employs 1,500 to 2,000 people.

Meisenheimer said commercial fishermen face a "perfect storm" of dropped quotas, high fuel prices and a higher Canadian dollar.

There are 211 commercial fishing licences on Lake Erie. In 2004, 12.3 million kilograms of fish were caught by Ontario fishermen in Lake Erie.
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