Located 470 kilometres north of Saskatoon is the community of Ile-a-la Crosse, home to Saskatchewan's largest northern fish processing plant. For the past five years, the community of approximately 1,300 people has been working to develop a new fish processing plant that could boost revenue and create jobs within the region.
After countless meetings and revised business plans, a partnership was formed between local fishermen and Sakitawak Development Corporation. Construction of a new 6000-square-foot, $2.2 million federally-certified fish processing plant was underway in July 2016, and the Ile-a-la Crosse Fish Company, originally estblished in September 2013, was born in early December 2017.
Throughout my visist I could sense the excitement and how proud the community was to have the new processing plant. I started my day at the Sakitawak Development Corporation office where I met with Chief Executive Officer, Wendal Desjarlais, and Fish production Manager, Earl Kenny. We talked about the unique partnership between Sakitawak and the fish company, and then I was off for my tour of the processing facility.
Murray Gray, who is the Quality Management Program Manager at the processing plant, was my tour guide. He showed me the process step-by-step, starting with the fishermen dropping off their catch to be scaled, filleted, packaged and finally frozen for shipping. It was fascinating to learn all that happens on a daily basis at the plant.
In the past, fishermen would send unprocessed fish out of the province for processing. But the birth of this facility allows the company to process fish locally and sell directly to markets throughout Saskatchewan, Canada and internationally. Now that the plant is up and operating, expectations are high. Staff expect to process close to 750,000 kilograms of fish this coming year.
This project opens doors for young people in the northern community, employing 18 full-time and 12 casual workers. About 40 fishermen from La Loche, Buffalo Narrows, Dillion, Canoe Lake, Primrose Lake, Patuanak, and Lac La Plonge bring their fish to this facility.
In the afternoon, Murray and I headed out with a group of fishermen to experience their side of the fish-catching process. I had never witnessed net-fishing until now! In total, there were three fishermen; two were in charge of pulling the net out of the ice hole and the third was in charge of cleaning/quick filleting the fish on site.
Murray named the different kinds of fish the fishermen had caught - walleye, nothern pike, white fish, mullet, two different types of suckers, and the lake trout that comes in from Lac La Plonge.
After bringing in the fish, we headed back to the processing facility to watch the process from start to finish once again. What an incredible experience!
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit up to Ile-la-la Crosse and I look forward to spotting their filleted fish in grocery stores across Saskatchewan.
Thank you for reading,