The Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters’ Federation says the recommendations in a study by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans could save independent, West Coast fishermen from a “perfect storm” disaster.
“British Columbia fishermen facing economic disaster have been thrown a lifeline,” Jim McIsaac, Pacific vice-president of the Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters’ Federation, said in a news release. The federation represents more than 14,000 fishers across the country.
Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns is vice-chair of the all-party committee, which studied the state of West Coast fisheries. A report, tabled May 7 in the House of Commons, calls for changes to B.C.’s commercial fisheries quota licensing to help independent fishers. Recommendations include:
•Allowing for the separation of married licences for sale to new fishers looking to start an owner-operated business;
•DFO providing financial support to independent fishers seeking to own their own licences;
•Providing loans and mentorship to independent fishers when first entering the industry;
•Creating an independent commission tasked with introducing limits on the number of quotas that can be held by one group; and
•Prioritizing the sale of licences to young or independent fishers.
“We had dozens of witnesses. They cited a fisher (Dan Edwards) from Ucluelet to help to inspire the proposal for this report to be studied,” said Johns, the NDP Critic for Fisheries and Oceans. “Really it’s around fairness, because there’s a lot of inequality happening in our fisheries, making it almost impossible for independent fishers to survive. They need a lifeline. This is an opportunity for government to implement these changes. It will make a massive change, not just in the fishers but in all coastal communities.”
These days, Johns feels as if Canadians live in two different countries. The East Coast supports independent fishers via a fish-it-or-lose-it model, while the West Coast has a concentration of licence holders who don’t fish but who reap most of the benefits.
“We call them ‘slipper skippers’,” Johns said. “We need adjacency. A lot of our fish are being sent off shore for processing. It’s killing coastal communities.”
He credits Edwards for his persistence that triggered the study.
“We owe him a ton of gratitude — and all independent fishers, too — for his advocacy and his leadership and his testimony,” Johns said.
He also acknowledged the work of fellow NDP MPs Fin Donnelly and Nathan Cullen, who for years have been calling for these changes.
North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney has also been a “huge advocate of the changes,” Johns said.