NOVEMBER 15, 2004 (VANCOUVER) — For the first time, a new study investigating the impacts of federal fisheries policies on communities and conservation in British Columbia has quantified what many in rural B.C. already know: the ownership of commercial fishing licences and quota is being consolidated in metropolitan areas. Rural coastal regions are losing their access to commercial fishing opportunities.

Published by Ecotrust Canada, a non-profit organization in Vancouver, B.C., and Ecotrust, its sister organization in Portland, Oregon, Catch-22: Conservation, Communities and the Privatization of B.C. Fisheries investigates the economic, social and ecological impacts of fisheries licensing policy.

“Fisheries contribute more than $600 million to the province's GDP,” says Ecotrust Canada President Ian Gill. “Yet when I travel the coast I see fewer and fewer fishing boats in Masset, Bella Bella, Alert Bay and Ucluelet. Fish plants are closing. Communities are losing their connection to the sea. Yet there's still enormous wealth being harvested from marine ecosystems—just not by local people.”

The report focuses, in part, on individual fishing quotas (IFQs) whereby an individual or company owns a preset portion of the total allowable catch. Quotas are bought, sold or traded like shares on a stock exchange. IFQs are considered a form of resource privatization.

DFO has implemented IFQs in the geoduck, halibut, sablefish, groundfish trawl and three shellfish fisheries. It is currently developing a controversial plan—opposed by many working fishermen and First Nations—to implement IFQs in B.C.'s salmon fishery.

“Many of the major reforms of Pacific fisheries in the 1990s represented a catch-22 for communities,” the report concludes. Although the Department of Fisheries and Oceans cut the fishing fleet in half and reduced capital investment in vessels and equipment, many of their policy reforms caused inflationary trends in the capital value of commercial fishing licences and quota.

In the 1990s, salmon troll and gillnet licences doubled in value, the price of halibut quota jumped by 400 percent and sablefish quota by more than 600 percent. By 2003, the market value of licences and quotas for all B.C. fisheries was $1.8 billion. That's more than six times the capital investment in vessels and equipment.

“Individual fishing quotas create big winners and big losers,” says Eric Enno Tamm, a researcher for Ecotrust Canada and Catch-22 coauthor. “Those initially granted quotas by the government earn a windfall profit because the public resource is given to them for free. But as the price of the quotas rise, poorer fishermen find it impossible to buy these expensive fishing privileges.”

Not surprisingly, with fewer economic opportunities, lower incomes and less home equity, rural and aboriginal fishermen have less capital and thus are at a disadvantage in competing to buy expensive licences and quotas.

The report identifies how inflationary market values for fishing licences squeezed out many rural and Aboriginal fishermen from the industry. Using DFO's licensing database, the report shows that between 1994 and 2002 rural communities with a population of less than 10,000 have lost 45 percent of their fishing licences for salmon, groundfish and shellfish. The decline in urban areas was only 30 percent.

In B.C.'s resource-dependent coastal regions few locals own fishing quotas. Indeed, 44 percent of all IFQ licences in B.C. are owned by residents in metropolitan Vancouver and Victoria, compared to only two percent on the West Coast of Vancouver, three percent in the North Island and nine percent in the North Coast. The researchers used GIS (Geographic Information Systems) technology to map the distribution of licences by coastal region in B.C.

“There is too much money chasing too few fish,” says Dr. Astrid Scholz, a resource economist for Ecotrust and Catch-22 coauthor. “Growing capitalization in fishing licences and quota is causing the urbanization of fisheries as the resource is being bought up by those with the deepest pockets and could threaten conservation by putting pressure on fishermen to increase catches to finance their large debt-loads.”

The report calls for new measures to promote fisheries conservation, reduce overcapitalization and boost the economic viability of struggling fishing-dependent communities through new community-owned fishing quotas, modelled on a successful system in rural Alaska.

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Ecotrust Canada and Ecotrust are non-profit organizations based in Vancouver B.C. and Portland, Oregon, respectively. Their work is predicated on the notion that economic and ecological systems are mutually interdependent. To this relationship, they have sought to add a third "e"—social equity—to ensurethat economic development awards benefits to all the citizens of the Pacific Northwest. Economy, ecology, equity: the triple bottom line.