It’s a massive hit for the Anishinabek/Ontario Fisheries Resource Centre in North Bay.

The organization is losing 70 percent of its funding this year under the Ford government budget with annual funding going from $860,000 to $250,000.

AOFRC General Manager Peter Meisenheimer said given how the provincial government has been talking about balancing the budget, he expected cuts.

However, Meisenheimer says the magnitude was more than expected.

The AOFRC is a scientific information technical support body with biologist and fishery technicians that provides fisheries services to the 40 Anishinabek First Nations in Ontario.

Most of the Indigenous communities are located in the Robinson-Superior and Robinson-Huron region.

Although most of the AOFRC’s work is fisheries-related, it’s also been working on a moose project north of Lake Superior.

With more than half the budget being cut, Meisenheimer expects five of the employees to lose their jobs.

The number of employees at the AOFRC fluctuates between 10 to 12 people.

Despite the budget cut, Meisenheimer says the layoffs can’t take place right away because the AOFRC has already begun some projects for this fiscal year and needs the existing staff to complete them.

After these projects are completed, Meisenheimer says future work will be analyzed on a case by case basis.

Meisenheimer says, fortunately, the AOFRC has been able to build up a reserve over the years and can draw on that surplus money to get through for the next while.

The AOFRC receives its funding as a transfer payment from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Meisenheimer says at this time there is no commitment from the MNRF to provide funding for the 2020/21 fiscal year.

Meisenheimer has begun telling Indigenous communities about the budget cut and how it will affect future work.

He says the reaction from the First Nations has been disbelief, as well as regret for lost programming.

Meisenheimer adds some are asking what they can do to find alternative sources of funding.

Finding more funding is something he’s started to work on.

Meisenheimer says he’s had a very difficult conversation with his employees who he describes as “really great people” and the cuts are not a reflection on the quality of their work.

“I don’t think anyone would dispute the service we provide is valuable,” he said.

“We’ve addressed the mandate consistently well over the years.  Certainly, nobody has ever suggested to us that we’ve done anything but a good job.”

Meisenheimer says the first indication that cuts were coming to the AOFRC was when it received a letter from the MNRF dated April 12th.

The letter addressed what the Ford government was trying to do to reach a balanced budget, but it didn’t mention the dollar amount that would be cut from the AOFRC budget.

“Later that same week we got a phone call telling us what the magnitude of the cut was,” Meisenheimer said.

The AOFRC was formed in 1995 and received annual funding from the provincial government.

More recently, the funding arrangement was changed to a transfer payment from the MNRF.

Meisenheimer says despite the budget setback, the AOFRC will explore alternative funding sources in an effort to keep moving forward with its work.