Monday, January 17, 2011

A TASTE OF CANADA'S LITTLE-KNOWN FRESHWATER FISHERY


An employee fills tubs with pikerel fillets at the FFMC facility (Photo: Lorne Doig)
Western Canada is known for its superb sport fishing, but the products of its multi-million-dollar commercial fishery are less well known to Canadians. Much of the fish netted annually across the Prairie provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and northwestern Ontario) is exported to countries like Finland, Germany, Poland, France, Russia and in large part, to the northeastern U.S.

The bulk of Western Canadian freshwater fish is processed in an unassuming industrial facility on Winnipeg’s southeastern outskirts. The Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC) facility, though aging, is a marvel best appreciated by foodies, fishermen, co-operative marketing agency buffs and other such food-commodity-loving nerds.

Everywhere you turn, there are fish. Semi trailers unload massive blue plastic transport cartons full of torpedo-shaped northern pike, plump speckled lake trout and golden-red-coloured white sucker (also known as mullet, its more palatable moniker); light-speed conveyor belts rocket pickerel (walleye) filets past white-coated plant workers; and whitefish drop into a hopper-topped apparatus that neatly separates meat from skin and bone, creating a rich fish paste destined for markets in New York and France.

“People don’t realize how big the commercial fishery is in Western Canada,” says Dave Bergunder, FFMC Lake Winnipeg zone manager and unofficial factory tour guide. “Prairie fishing is big.” The corporation made $62.5 million dollars in sales in 2009.

Most Prairie pikerel are destined for the US restaurant trade. (Photo: Lorne Doig)
Of interest to Canadian fish consumers, chefs and restaurateurs, the availability of fish caught on the Prairies varies with the ups and downs of the international marketplace. In 2009, just 16% of the FFMC’s output was sold domestically. Tasked with hunting out the best financial return for its commercial fisher members, the corporation sells to the top dollar. When the U.S. dollar is strong, the country can account for 65% of fish sales. With the current high Canadian dollar, however, consumers are more likely to find Canuck freshwater fish in their local markets.

Included here are several photographs of the FFMC facility taken by my brother, University of Saskatchewan research scientist and photographer Lorne Doig and Zoltan Varadi, Toronto writer and photographer.

Swimming in ice water, dressed pikerel await processing. (Photo: Lorne Doig)
FFMC's Dave Bergunder demystifies the making of fish burger. (Photo: Lorne Doig)

Whitefish puree destined for New York and France. (Photo: Zoltan Varadi)
Ian Doig. 
Ian Doig Web Developer

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