Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Call from MLA for Legislature support for commercial fishermen in BC

The closure of the canning lines at Canadian Fish's Prince Rupert plant
made for part of the narrative for MLA Jennifer Rice on Monday as
she spoke to a range of issues on the fishery

They continue to tell a fair share of fish tales at the British Columbia Legislature, with this week beginning much as last week went, with a number of statements and presentations on the state of the province's fishery.

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice returned to theme on Monday morning, providing for a two part presentation to the Legislature, all under the topic of supporting fisheries for communities.

The first portion of the MLA's notes provided for a  bit of a North Coast history lesson as Ms. Rice reviewed some of the recent events in the fishing industry in the riding.

The number of active fishermen has declined. Between 1985 and 2015, small-boat numbers dropped by 65 percent, and the number of big boats has dropped by 44 percent. Over 11,000 fish harvesting jobs have been lost. Due to federal policies, most north coast salmon fishermen are grossing less $10,000 annually. Many fishermen are no longer insuring their vessels. Their boats need much capital investment, and most are indentured to the processing companies for seasonal loans or to lease quota.

Every year fewer rural fisherman are able to go commercial fishing. Older fishermen who want to retire from salmon fishing find they can't sell their licences at a reasonable price. Younger fishermen can't afford to buy salmon licences, as the return is too small. And they are unable to buy into the more lucrative fisheries because the cost to buy a licence or quota is in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Most young entrants just lease quota to try to pay for their newly bought boats.

The recent downsizing of the cannery industry also became part of her narrative for the House, with Ms. Rice pointing how the closure of the Prince Rupert Canadian Fish Cannery had impacted on the lives of shoreworkers in the region.

Shoreworker employment and earnings are also trending down in our coastal communities. Twenty years ago there were seven large and six small companies operating on the north coast that employed around 2,200 shoreworkers. Through consolidation, the Canadian Fishing Company ended up with the large companies' assets. Canadian Fish and five small companies remain. Canadian Fish has all but closed its northern operation. 

The closure of Prince Rupert's cannery meant that wage employment declined from around 1,000 workers in the Prince Rupert and Port Ed area in 2014-15 to around 250 currently. The workers at Canfisco's plants have paid the biggest price, with not only fewer people employed but over a 50 percent cut in days worked and earnings. Rural shoreworkers are seeing processing move to the Lower Mainland or to Asia

For the second portion of her observations, the theme of the current proposals from the Federal Fisheries Department was introduced, and with that the lack of application on the West Coast of initiatives that have been introduced for the Atlantic coast.

Presently, federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc is proposing protections written into the Fisheries Act for independent fishermen and their rural communities in Atlantic Canada. So far, those pro-people policies are not going to apply to B.C.'s fish harvesters and our rural coastal communities.  

We should be pressuring the federal minister to extend those protections to B.C. fishermen. Provincially, we can promote policies that support active fishers and their communities, such as fishermen's organizations.

DFO policies have created de facto private ownership of fish. Consults with licence and quota owners and with active fish harvesters are increasingly excluded from policy in fisheries consultations. Fishermen need the resources to organize and represent the interests of active fishermen in these policy decisions.

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice
has been raising a range of issues
related to the fishing industry
in recent weeks
(photo MLA Rice's Facebook page)
As well as her review of the DFO proposals, Ms. Rice also introduced some ideas as to how the province could make the fishing industry more affordable for participants, making use of a number of examples from the North Coast region towards her themes.

For example, in my constituency, Lax Kw'alaams has a good-sized fish plant. However, most Tsimshian salmon fishermen cannot deliver to the plant because they are indebted to the large processors for start-up loans. We can promote policies that support shoreworking employment in coastal communities. Adjacency. I've spoken about this before. Besides direct adjacency provisions, rural community benefits can be achieved through offering fishermen or communities control over access to fish. We can talk about Alaskan-style ocean ranching. 

The Heiltsuk are very successful in running a facility in Bella Bella. We can also talk about community- and fishermen-owned licence banks and quota. The Northern Native Fishing Corporation is an example in my region. This is an entity owned by three North Coast tribal councils. It's an example of a community licence bank. Gillnet licences are leased to First Nations commercial fishers, and local fishermen tend to deliver to local communities.

The North Coast MLA wrapped up her overview with a call for the Legislature to lend their support in urging the Federal Government to provide for better support for commercial fishermen in the province.

Being a member of the governing party, one would think that it shouldn't be too hard for the MLA to get her New Democrat partners on board with her plans, however how Mr. Horgan and Mr. Trudeau might get along on her themes of action may be another thing,

At the moment, the NDP government in Victoria probably won't find that their phone calls are returned all that fast, that as the BC and Alberta governments square off over pipeline issues, with Ottawa clearly on the side of Premier Notley at the moment.

You can review the full text of her notes for the Legislature from the Hansard archive of Monday morning starting at the 10:30 point.

As well the presentation to the Legislature can be found below:

For more items of note on the North Coast Fishing industry see our archive page here.

A look at the work of MLA Rice in Victoria can be found on our Legislature archive here.

We also have wider overview of provincial issues available through our political portal D'Arcy McGee.

To return to the most recent blog posting of the day, click here.

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