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Industry Profile - Commercial Fishing  


The JobStart/Future Skills Sector Partnerships Program of Saskatchewan Learning enabled a sector study of the commercial fishing industry in Saskatchewan. This industry profile is based on that study, published in July, 2001.

The commercial fishing industry established a partnership of industry members and key stakeholders through funding and support from the Sector Partnerships Program. These partners worked together to carry out a study that identified current and future hiring needs and training requirements.

Strategic planning enables industry and training providers to work together to provide training opportunities that match the skills the industry requires.

For more information about the Sector Partnership Report and this industry visit the Executive Summary. You'll need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view this PDF file.

Saskatchewan Overview
Saskatchewan Trends
Related Jobs
Where the Jobs Are
Skills and Training
The Future
Related Information


Saskatchewan Overview
  • During the 1960s and 1970s, the commercial fishing industry flourished. Over 500 lakes and rivers were fished.

  • The federal government established the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation (FFMC) in 1969. Centralization of fish processing in Winnipeg followed, with twelve Northern Saskatchewan plants closed. It was no longer feasible to catch fish in many remote lakes due to the long shipping distance.

  • Since the 1970s, there has been a steady decline. In 1998-99, 90% of the fish caught came from only about 50 lakes.

  • Low income in relation to the cost of fishing, lack of processing facilities in the province and changes in legislation and regulations on processing and marketing have contributed to this decline.

  • Nevertheless, the commercial fishing industry is a major contributor to the economy of northern Saskatchewan communities.

  • Gross sales in 1998 were over $4 million.

  • The total direct value of the industry in Saskatchewan is estimated at $5.2 million. This figure is based on payments to commercial fishers of four million dollars, payments to FFMC agents of $700,000 and to freight companies of $500,000.

  • FFMC has the exclusive rights to marketing and sales for the interprovincial and international trade.

  • The primary cash species sold are whitefish, walleye (pickerel), northern pike, lake trout, mullet and sauger (baby pickerel).

  • The 2000-2001 quarterly reports of the FFMC show that the summer season (May to October) accounted for 56% of commercial fish caught and the winter season (November to April) accounted for 44%.

Commercial fishing employment

  • There are 35 communities in the north where commercial fishing is a prime source of income.

  • Today, there are about twenty-nine northern commercial fisheries co-operatives and one regional association.

  • There are an estimated 540 licensed commercial fishers operating in the province who sell fish to the FFMC. There are over 1,000 helpers.

  • Total active employment in the industry (seasonal, part-time and full-time) amounts to about 1,570 workers. Over 90% of these are commercial fishers and helpers.

  • Fishers and helpers mostly winter fish, although there are a number of lakes with summer fishing. Most fishers have a seasonal work pattern and very few fish in both winter and summer. Often they work in another job, for example hunting and trapping or working as a guide for an outfitter

Who works in the industry?

  • People of Aboriginal ancestry make up 82% of the people working in this industry. Many have long family traditions in fishing.
  • About 84% of industry workers are male. Women make up about 16% of industry workers.
  • Just over 45% of people working in the industry are 45 years of age and older. About 9% of the workforce is 24 years of age and younger.
  • Of commercial fishers, 67% have some high school education and 23% have completed grade 12. Of helpers, 58% have some high school education and 34% have completed grade 12. All packing plant workers have some high school.


Saskatchewan Trends

  • There has been a steady decline in the size of the industry because of the loss of local processing plants, the seasonal nature of the work, changes in consumer demand for fish and prices paid to fishermen.
  • Few new people, particularly of the younger generation, are coming into the industry. Most industry workers have other employment. Sometimes they continue in their other, more lucrative employment and leave the commercial fishing industry.

  • The provincial government announced The Northern Saskatchewan Fisheries Infrastructure Program in September, 2000. This program was created to help improve lakeside facilities for packing and shipping of fish from northern lakes to provincial, national and international markets.

  • The government’s goal was to help double the annual catch from around four million pounds to over eight million pounds. This could be done by fully utilizing the quotas for catches and developing fisheries of underused species such as burbot and mullet.

  • Successful expansion of the industry is expected to lead to longer employment periods and greater earning potential for existing fishers and their helpers. It may also increase the number of new commercial fishers.


Related Jobs

The following list provides an idea of some of the jobs in the commercial fishing area.

Where there is a relevant occupational description in the Working in Canada website, you may search the following titles to go directly to its description. You’ll learn more about the occupation, including education and training requirements, work duties, wage information and employment trends.

National Occupational Classification (NOC) numbers follow the job title. You can use the NOC numbers to look up the occupations in the NOC.

Fishing Vessel Masters (8261)

Fishing Vessel Skippers & Fishermen/women (8262)

Sales Representative - Wholesale Trade (including Fish Dealers) (6411)

Machine Operators & Related Workers in Food & Beverage Processing (including Fish Plant Workers) (9461)

Other related jobs include: truck driver/hauler, inventory supplier and Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation agent.


Where the Jobs Are

The bulk of commercial fishing activity takes place in northern Saskatchewan, with a wide geographical spread. Some of the communities involved in commercial fishing include: Pinehouse, La Ronge, Denare Beach, Lake Athabasca, Reindeer Lake and Wollaston.



The average annual wage for fishermen/women is around $20,800.

Agricultural and fish products inspectors make an average of $66,900 per year. Similarly, Conservation and fishery officers make around $65,800 annually.


Skills and Training

For a number of years there has been no training available for workers in the province’s commercial fishing industry. No institutional or workplace-based training for commercial fishermen or packing plant workers is offered in the province.

Every job in the industry requires some form of training and upgrading. On-the-job training is the method preferred by most people in the industry.

The Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST) Woodland Campus offers some related programs, including:

Integrated Resource Management Diploma (with a number of courses related to fisheries)
Geographic Information Science for Resource Management Certificate
Skills and knowledge that workers in the industry need include:


  • Knowledge and understanding of fishing
  • Technical aspects of catching fish
  • Business management
  • Operating equipment
  • First aid and CPR certification
  • Proper care and handling of fish
  • Communication & interpersonal skills
  • Negotiating
  • Working with numbers
  • Computer skills

Packing plant workers

  • Care and handling of fish, proper storage
  • Sanitation and cleanliness

  • Proper icing procedures, temperature control
  • Grading, weighing and packing
  • Preparing for shipping, labelling
  • Safety

Overall, survey participants most frequently indicated a need for training or upgrading in:

  • Quality control

  • Fishing technology (trap netting)

  • Equipment repair and maintenance

  • Maintaining records

  • Business management

  • Computers

  • Health and safety

  • Co-operative board management

  • Technology (using global positioning systems)


The Future

A January 2000 study completed for Saskatchewan Northern Affairs recommended steps to expand the industry and return it to local control.
Some developments could include:

- Establish a fresh fish processing plant in the province
- Make use of the current unused commercial quota
- Harvest the significant supply of underused species
- Use different technology such as global positioning systems and computers
- Coordinate marketing efforts for Saskatchewan fish
- Develop better business planning

A decline in the number of commercial fishers and helpers is predicted. This decline will not have a negative impact on the volume caught. It will allow greater income for the remaining fishers who consider fishing their prime occupation.

On the other hand, the Sector Partnership study showed that there could be potential for a small growth in the workforce through successful marketing of underused species of fish and more processing operations in the province.

There is a high turnover in the industry and a large number of existing workers will be in a position to retire within five to ten years. Only support for the industry and training opportunities for new workers will allow the industry to hold its own and develop in the future.

Increasing use of technology will affect commercial fishers over time. They will have to learn how to use Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to map lakes on computers; be compliant with Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP); use computerized bookkeeping; and use the Internet to market their products.

Marketing will be more and more important for fishers. They will need to explore potential markets for underused species and play an active role with industry co-operatives.


Related Information

Visit the following Web sites for more information on the commercial fishing industry:

Northern Affairs – Northern Focus
Canadian Professional Fish Harvesters (CCPFH)

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