North Coast leaders are calling the sweeping recommendations of a Parliamentary committee a win for independent fishers.
The all-party Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans released its study on the state of the West Coast fisheries May 7, recommending numerous changes to the Fisheries Act that aim is to lower financial barriers for those wanting to enter the profession, and limiting the number of licences held by any single group.
“I think it is clear from this report that it’s time for action on the West Coast to support independent commercial fishers so that everyone can share in the benefits from the incredible fisheries we have in B.C.,” said Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen in a press release.” The committee heard evidence from dozens of witnesses about the problems with quota licensing and we now have a whole set of recommendations for this government to take on board and start implementing.”
Bill C-68, adopted in June of last year, paved the way for an overhaul of the Fisheries Act, whereby the ministry considers not only ecology in its decisions, but the social and economic impacts on the communities dependant on the fishery.
During its consideration of the bill, the House of Commons Standing Committee adopted a motion to conduct a study on B.C.’s fisheries after hearing testimony on the harm DFO’s quota licensing system has caused here.
Critics have long argued the bulk of B.C. licences are either consolidated under corporate ownership, or owned by overseas investors. The impacts are far reaching, they say, but in either case the benefits of the fishery don’t reach the communities that serve it.
During testimonies to the committee, fisherman Dan Edwards said another generation of skilled fishermen will be lost if changes aren’t quickly made.
“Who would enter a fishery where they work so hard, and often in very difficult conditions, but make a pauper’s wages with no hope for better?” he said. “It’s not because the fishery is not lucrative; it’s because so much of the wealth is captured by somebody onshore holding a piece of paper. This management failure is a result of ignoring the socio-economic side of the policy equation over decades.”
Several advisory committees and subcommittees have been established to provide advice to DFO on the management of fisheries, but Prince Rupert’s Joy Thorkelson, president of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union, was quoted in the report as saying this had little impact on the imbalance.
“DFO Pacific is consulting with fewer and fewer active fishermen. They consult with quota owners and licence-holders, who increasingly do not fish,” Thorkelson said in the report.
In a joint statement with Cullen, North Coast MLA Rice agreed the committee’s work made it clear the quota licensing system in B.C. is in need of an overhaul. “Current DFO policies treat fish, a Canadian common resource as a commodity. If these recommendations were implemented our resources would benefit B.C. coastal communities, fish harvesters and First Nations. Seafood harvested in British Colombia should support local jobs and local economies not large scale corporate and non-Canadian interests.
“This report provides excellent guidance on how we can develop a made-in-BC framework that puts community, social and economic benefits at the forefront,” added Rice.
Prince Rupert’s Joy Thorkelson, president of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union, and witness for the committee hearings, could not be reached for comment before deadline.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly attributed a statement to Chris Sporer, executive manager of Pacific Halibut Management Association. The statement was actually made by fisherman Dan Edwards. The above story has been corrected. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.