Northern Wild Fishery expansion could lead to more jobs for Hatchet Lake

Hatchet Lake chief Bart Tsannie samples smoked trout at Northern Wild Fishery on Feb. 14, 2018. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Northern Wild Fishery has come a long way in a few short years.

The fishery, run out of Wollaston Lake, launched in 2015. In 2016 they opened their retail store in Prince Albert. Now, they’ve introduced new products and been picked up by Federated Co-op.

The progress means jobs and security for the people of Hatchet Lake Denesuline First Nation, an area hard hit by the loss of jobs in the uranium industry.

Wednesday, Hatchet Lake chief Bart Tsannie and Anne Robillard, CEO of the Hatchet Lake Development Limited Partnership, the parent company of the fishery, were on hand in Prince Albert to launch their new smoked trout product, which they hope will lead to more jobs and security for young people in their community.

“We want to expand our business through fishing,” Tsannie said.

“The cutbacks in uranium mining really hit Hatchet Lake, and a lot of our employees were laid of. We have to find jobs for our youngsters for the future. By selling more fish, we can create more jobs. We have to find these opportunities to expand our business.”

Tsannie said that as the fishery grows, it’s looking outside Wollaston Lake for fish. Right now, the fishery is working with fishermen from other areas and with the Government of Manitoba to supplement their supply of trout and whitefish with more pike and pickerel.

The fishery is the latest development in the area. Years ago a commercial fishery operated out of Wollaston Lake. Now, that’s long gone. Shifting from commercial fishing to running a fish distribution and retail market has brought some challenges, but things are looking up.

“We strive for self-sustaining economic development. We’re on the right track,” Robillard said.

“We saw there was an opportunity to go out and sell and market our product. At the beginning it didn’t take well, but we’ve come a long ways building this venture. We surrounded ourselves with good people, we diversified, brought in outside resources, and we’re going to launch our product and continue.”

The fishery now operates a Canadian Food Inspection Agency-certified processing plant in Wollaston, and has partnered with the University of Saskatchewan to produce the smoked products until they have enough capital to develop their own facility.

Fish is caught and then flash frozen lakeside. It’s processed at either the Wollaston Lake or Prince Albert plants, or shipped to vendors.

The smoked fish is produced, labelled and packaged at the U of S at their food processing facility.

While the fishery introduced savoury and candied trout a while ago, there was consumer demand for a natural product.

“We are very pleased we have the natural smoked trout,” said Wollaston Lake Fishery general manager Ray Funk.

“We had previously worked on candied and savoury trout, it’s been a good seller, but people kept saying they wanted a natural smoked product without the flavours. Far be it for us to argue with the customers. If they want smoked trout, we will supply it.”

The trout comes from Wollaston Lake, which has a large supply of the fish. The product itself is smoked using poplar, willow and chokecherry wood. The hope is by expanding the product line the company can create more opportunities in its home community. It currently employs between 20-25 people.

“If we were able to make use of all the trout in Wollaston Lake, we could come pretty close to doubling that number,” Funk said.

“It’s a small step, but it could go a long way.”

Robillard agreed.

“We’re going to (continue) this venture for a long time,” she said, “create jobs and bring back revenues to the community. That’s the big picture of our investment.”