Anishinabek/Ontario Fisheries Resource Centre’s work severely hampered by provincial funding cuts

The Anishinabek/Ontario Fisheries Resource Centre

NORTH BAY—The work that has been carried out by the Anishinabek/Ontario Fisheries Resource Centre (A/OFRC) helping First Nations in work to protect wildlife and resources (including work on Manitoulin Island), will be severely hampered by the announcement of a significant funding cut by the province of Ontario.

“It is definitely going to impact us,” stated Peter Meisenheimer, A/OFRC general manager in an interview with the Recorder last week. “Yes, our work included projects on Manitoulin Island. Seventy percent of our funding is now gone.” 

Statements made by Ontario officials indicate that in part, the work done by A/OFRC duplicates that of the MNRF and that they provided enough information. However, Mr. Meisenheimer told the Recorder, “but that is not our role. We exist as an independent trusted third party.” 

In 2000 the A/OFRC adopted a vision and mission statement that reads, “we strive to be an independent Centre of Excellence for fisheries assessment and management, recognized and trusted by First Nations, governments and all users of fisheries resources. Our mission is to report on stock status, evaluate stresses on fish populations and habitats, offer management recommendations, and facilitate information sharing and participation among all stakeholders to promote sustainable fisheries and resolve conflict.”

Since that time the organization’s mission has been examined in strategic planning processes and with representatives of Ontario and the Anishinabek Nation. The organization has accepted requests to take on natural resource projects beyond its original mandate and mission.

An A/OFRC release dated May 16 explains, “The Anishinabek/Ontario Fisheries Resource Centre (A/OFRC) is currently implementing projects as part of the A/OFRC’s 2019-20 program. The program will continue on a reduced basis while the organization works through planning based on changes in its funding base.”

“On April 12, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) advised the A/OFRC by email that the Ministry is seeking changes to the existing three-year Transfer Payment Agreement (we have just started the second year),” the release indicates. “In a subsequent call we were informed that the transfer payment is to be reduced by $250,000 for the 2019/20 year from the previously agreed $860,000. At this time, there is no commitment from MNRF to funding for the 2020-21 budget year.”

 “A reduction of this magnitude will inevitably have significant consequences for delivery of the A/OFRC’s program. Projects will be considered on a case by case basis as we figure out how to allocate the resources we have available to us. All hiring for permanent positions has been suspended,” the release continues. “The founding of the A/OFRC was a product of the 1993 Anishinabek Conservation and Fishing Agreement between the Crown in Right of Ontario and the Anishinabek Nation as represented by the Union of Ontario Indians.”

“The A/OFRC has served as a source of independent, trusted information since 1995,” continued the release. “At the time of its founding the Province of Ontario agreed to fund the A/OFRC’s operations; in recent years, the funding has been administered through a transfer payment agreement. The A/OFRC also brings in some revenue from other grants and contracts.”

“The executive committee, board of directors and staff of the A/OFRC are working to find new revenues to sustain our important work. We will keep our communities apprised of developments as they arise.”
Mr. Meisenheimer pointed out the A/OFRC office had 12 employees on hand, but are now down to four. 

The National Observer reported on May 17 that Justine Lewkowicz, a spokesperson for MNRF Minister John Yakabuski, defended the cuts to the resource centre, saying that the provincial government was trying to protect what matters most—health care, education and other critical public services—in efforts to balance the province’s books.

“Budget 2019 builds on the work done by our close and thorough review of all government programs in order to ensure investments are sustainable and modernized. The review is also meant to ensure that duplication is eliminated and valuable programs and services are delivering outcomes for the people of Ontario,” Ms. Lewkowicz was quoted by the National Observer as saying. “The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry monitors fish populations and aquatic ecosystems. We will continue working with the Anishinabek Ontario Fisheries Resource Centre to share information on fisheries resources. Ontario is committed to working in partnership with Indigenous communities to promote economic opportunities and improve quality of life.”

Former Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day told the National Observer that the Fisheries Resource Centre was created so that it could be a means through which First Nations could tackle issues of contention or policy challenges on things like fishery management and habitat preservation. The Centre, Chief Day said, helped “develop technical capacity, reporting capacity, a storage of scientific information and essentially used money for research and better policy,” for both the government and First Nations communities to use in sustaining natural resources by combining Indigenous tradition and technology. He said the government’s budget cuts are a callous approach to natural resources and the environment.