Lisa Stewart, Westerly News, December 1, 2004

With a number of reports floating around about the state of fishing in BC, Fisheries and Oceans Canada says it is consulting with stakeholders to gauge what should happen next.

The David Suzuki Foundation recently released a report called Seas of Change. It includes ten recommendations for sustainable fisheries on the BC coast. The foundation’s marine campaigner Jay Ritchlin spoke to Ucluelet council at a Committee of the Whole meeting in October. "I have a great passion for fish and for fishing and for seeing that continue as a way of life in coastal communities."

He presented council with the foundation’s view – that a new approach to fisheries management is needed where the ecology, economics, and social issues of the fishery are considered instead of the current method the foundation calls a species by species approach.

The ten recommendations in the report include managing the ecosystem as a whole rather than by individual stocks, being precautionary, protecting habitat, creating reserves, minimizing bycatch, investing more in research and monitoring, and giving those who care the most about the fishery a say in its management.

"You happen to live in the one area on the coast that may be able to make that work," Ritchlin told council of the last recommendation on the list. "We believe the West Coast aquatic management board is a model that we should try to see empowered and replicated along the coast."

He encouraged council to bring support for community-based management boards to the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities convention and then on to the Union of BC Municipalities convention next year so that government is forced to take notice and hopefully take action on the issue.

Andrew Day is executive director for the West Coast Vancouver Island Aquatic Management Board (WVCI AMB) and made a report to the Oct. 26 Ucluelet council meeting. He updated council on recent board activities, breaking the activity into a number of subgroups including information management, communication, fundraising, and projects. The board is coming to the end of its first three-year term.
As stated on its website, the WVCI AMB is "a forum for the coastal communities and other persons and bodies affected by aquatic resource management to participate more fully with governments in all aspects of the integrated management of aquatic resources in the management area."

The board of directors includes Nuu-chah-nulth, federal, provincial, and local government representatives, and eight non-government members generally representative of recreational, commercial and Aboriginal fishing, processing, tourism, environment, aquaculture and labour.

The board has a shoestring core operating budget funded by the federal, Nuu-chah-nulth and local governments, but has generated substantial project funds from the province, foundations, businesses and other sources. "Ours is a small cup, but it does not leak," says Day, who sees exciting times ahead. "It’s like any new business. The first three years is intense in every way as it is all new to everyone, but we know if we stay focused, work hard and produce results than we set a foundation for expansion and fulfilling more of the original potential and mandate that was envisaged for the area."

The second report on BC fisheries is from Ecotrust, written for the consideration of the WCVI AMB and other parties. Eric Tamm, a researcher with Ecotrust Canada, spoke about the report to both Ucluelet and Tofino councils and the regional district. The report is entitled Catch – 22: Conservation, Communities and the Privatization of the BC Fisheries, and looks at the economic, social and ecological impacts of Fisheries and Oceans’ policies. The report outlines a significant loss of access to the commercial fisheries and cites a number of reasons for the loss.

It’s a complicated story with many sub-plots, but Tamm boils it down to blaming federal policies and initiatives in the fisheries for the rising costs of fishing licenses. In 1969 a fishing license had no actual market value, although the fleet’s vessels and equipment were valued at almost $5 million. By 2003 the value of the vessels and equipment had dropped by almost half, but the licenses and quotas were valued at $1,821 billion. On the West Coast the number of licenses in Ahousat, Bamfield, Tofino, and Ucluelet went from 182 in 1994 down to 76 in 2002 – a loss of over 100 licenses. (Numbers taken from Ecotrust’s report.)

"The quick story is the Department of Fisheries and Oceans put in rules and regulations that encouraged the buying and selling and inflation in the prices of licenses," says Tamm. He says the department’s approach – to let the market do as it will – failed coastal communities. "Big fish eat little fish. And in the fishing world it’s the rural, young, and Aboriginal fishermen who get eaten. The only criteria for going fishing today is that you have a lot of money."

Tamm says it won’t be the deckhands or neighbors of current quota and license holders who buy out retiring fishermen because they won’t have enough money. He estimates the average age of BC fishermen at 55.

"Most countries have mechanisms to deal with this issue – Canada is lagging behind," says Day, who believes this issue extends beyond commercial fishing. "We have to be careful to develop fair and practical approaches, which means getting beyond left and right ideaologies, so that the overall economy increases as a result of what we do. The board can lead that."

Don Radford works for Fisheries and Oceans out of Vancouver and is Regional Director of Fisheries Management. He says the Pearce/McRae Report – commissioned by the province and Fisheries and Oceans Canada – as well as the parallel process and release of a First Nations’ report have prompted the federal fisheries minister to ask for a consultation process on the implementation of the reports. There are approximately 50 recommendations included within the two reports. He says the alternate viewpoints in the other recent reports should also be covered during the consultations.

The United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union jumped into the fray with its own report released Nov. 17 – A Fishery that Works for Everyone. "The Department of Fisheries and Oceans challenged those of us who did not agree with privatization of our fisheries to come up with an alternative," said union representative Garth Mirau. The union report says the existing quota fisheries in BC have contributed to the death or near death of coastal communities and calls on DFO to change its plans to introduce individual fishing quotas to the salmon fishery for the 2005 season.

Radford says there are some serious allegations about DFO included in the union’s report and although DFO believes the allegations are unfounded the department is treating the report seriously.

As for the future of the WCVI AMB, Radford says the board is on eof a number of current processes designed to encourage cross-sectoral, multi-stakeholder input and these processes are important to the department.