The Problem

Currently BC fisheries management is failing local fishermen, BC fishing communities and all Canadians. The current regional management structures and the policies that allow unrestricted ownership and unlimited transferability of fishing licences and quota, are negatively affecting historical values in BC’s fishing industry. This is a fundamentally broken system and it must be fixed for the benefit of our local communities from harvest to plate.

The Canadian Government is managing our fisheries using policies that result in the privatization of access to fish resources. Catch shares, in one form or another, are now used as the principle means of managing commercial fisheries on the Pacific Coast, and individual transferable quotas (ITQs) are used in 60% of BC fisheries. The cost to purchase quota for Pacific commercial fish species has skyrocketed over the last 30 years due to concentrated ownership by a wealthy few. This has led to economic prosperity for a select few at the cost of many fishermen and coastal communities.

Further, citizens and local small businesses — fishmongers, chefs, restaurateurs, etc — can not access a good supply of local fish for their dinner tables and their customers. Currently 85% of Canadian seafood is exported while up to 93% of the seafood available to Canadians is imported. Canadian food security is in great danger when we are selling off access to one of our most important protein sources.

The Pacific commercial fisheries today continue to land a significant catch and a high dollar value. It is estimated that Pacific commercial fisheries land 129,670 tonnes of fish each year [source], worth a gross landed value of $356 million [source]. However, the number of boats and fish harvesters have decreased dramatically over the last thirty years, resulting in significant job loss and economic hardship for coastal communities.

Number of personal commercial fishing licences reflecting the number of fishing jobs in British Columbia, 1985-2015.

Number of registered commercial fishing vessels in British Columbia, 1985-2015.

​When the boats leave the industry, so do the associated businesses like processing, retail suppliers of gear, ice and bait, mechanics, insurance and accounting. When these businesses and services leave a community so do the people and this pattern is all too common along BC’s coast.

It’s killed a lot of communities. You go to Bella Bella, you go to Hartley Bay, you go to Alert Bay even, you look at their fleets and ever since area selection and quotas, you’re down to – let’s say they had 500 boats, they’re down to 10-15. That’s from the quota. You can actually go into a lot of these villages and you can see on the beach the boats that they can’t maintain. My brother’s boat sank right in the breakwater in Hartley Bay.
​– BC Fisherman

This decline is just part of the story, incomes have declined 16% from 2000 to 2013, and the average age of harvesters has climbed from 54 in 2003 to 62 in 2015, reflecting that the next generation isn’t entering the industry.

…if there was some young guy trying to scrape together money and buy that quota, he was up against an operation with huge resources. And you know the average small guy isn’t in a position to compete for the quota.
– BC Fisherman

It went from an individual to a corporation. Now that fish is inaccessible to any younger fellow who wants to start, unless he wants to lease it.
And you don’t have that much experienced crew anymore. All the experienced crews are 50 to 80 years old now.

– BC Fisherman

Further, BC fisheries are lagging in value added. Both Alaska and Atlantic Canada are capturing increasing value from fisheries resources compared to their state in 2000, while BC remains at or below our landed value and volumes from 2000. There is a global demand for seafood and ever increasing markets, we are literally missing the boat. The profound failure of our fisheries to provide their full value to local people and adjacent communities is not just about the huge loss of financial benefit. The fishery has historically been, and with effective policy can be, an economic driver and an integral part of our food security, culture, and the social fabric of our province again.

Evolution of landings (in tonnes) and landed value ($) in Canada’s Atlantic, British Columbia, and Alaska, between 2000 and 2015, relative to 2000.

This trend is even more damaging as the majority of BC catch is being exported and the majority of seafood available in supermarkets is imported. It has become increasingly challenging for locals to access local sustainable seafood in this province. While this industry is a culture for many and provides a number of job opportunities, its primary purpose is to provide food. BC residents have a right to local and sustainable seafood.

What is the net result of all this?

  • Thousands of jobs lost on the coast (jobs hard to replace in small coastal communities),
  • The same amount of fish coming out of the water but a drop in value acquired per pound despite an increase in comparable regions,  and an increasing global demand for seafood
  • Loss of fishermen viability and no new generation to replace them
  • Decline of coastal communities and their connection to the sea, in the case of First Nations since time immemorial

The outstanding question is: who is benefiting? Private investors and increasingly, offshore investors. ​

Content – provided by T Buck Suzuki and Ecotrust Canada reports:
Just transactions Just Transitions
Assessing Alternatives: Towards Sustainable Fisheries in BC Understanding Values in Canada’s North Pacific