Scott Simpson, Vancouver Sun, May 20, 2005

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has caused economic and social devastation in small coastal B.C. communities through short-sighted management policies, and shifted control of the salmon fishery to Vancouverites who don’t even fish, a Senate committee report stated Thursday.

The committee says the DFO should halt plans to implement a controversial new catch quota system for West Coast salmon fishermen until it consults with communities that will be impacted by the system. And the department must in future "take into consideration the socio-economic impacts of its major decisions."

It reported that DFO management strategies during the past decade have stripped fishing jobs from small communities that could ill afford to lose them, at a cost to all Canadian taxpayers who should be "wary" of advocates who seek privatized access to "common public assets [that] belong to all Canadians."

The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans is examining fisheries management in Canada, and made the comments in an interim report that was released in Ottawa on a day when the nation’s attention was focused on a crucial budget vote on Parliament Hill.

Coincidentally, the report was released on the same day that the DFO issued a flurry of news releases wherein Liberal MPs on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts announced almost $21 million worth of harbour improvement projects.

Industry Minister David Emerson announced $6.9 million for the Skeena-Bulkley Valley area and Pacific region small craft harbours. Vancouver Island harbours got $2 million, Steveston Harbour got $930,000, and the Sunshine Coast got $165,000.

The remainder went to harbours across the country — even Saskatchewan got $250,000.

The Senate committee said in its release that it is "particularly interested in the potential adverse effects of changes on coastal communities and their inhabitants."

The committee reported that the Mifflin Plan, which cut the size of the B.C. fleet by half in the 1990s with the intention of making it more economically viable, "had the opposite effect."

Job losses were worst in rural and aboriginal communities along the coast.

"The committee heard testimony that years of federal policies had shifted fishing licenses out of rural and aboriginal coastal communities, the result being that few now see economic benefits from the fishery resources adjacent to their shores," said the report.

"Witnesses spoke about frustration, despair and the depopulation of communities. On the West Coast of Vancouver Island, where once there had been a number of community fishers involved in commercial fishing, this is no longer the case."

The reported noted that the Nuu-chah-nulth tribal group had just 16 commercial fishing vessels remaining from a fleet that had numbered 200 in the 1950s — and unemployment rates ran as high as 90 per cent in some communities.

Committee chair Gerald Comeau said in the preface to the report that all Canadian taxpayers "foot the bill when coastal communities lose access to the fishery and the economic benefits from the resource."

The committee reported that "more than 40 per cent of B.C. fishing licenses and quotas are now owned by Vancouverites, compared to two per cent for residents of the West Coast of Vancouver Island, three per cent on the North Island and nine per cent on the North Coast — the latter three areas being where much of the salmon fishery takes place."

The report says many of those urban licenses are held by individuals and companies who lease out their quotas and licenses rather than use them themselves.

"In the next decade, as increasingly more fishers retire, leasing, fishing licence consolidation and the loss of licenses in rural communities are expected to worsen the situation."

One veteran Fraser River fisherman applauded a recommendation to delay introduction of catch quotas for West Coast salmon fishermen.

But gillnetter Bob McKamey dismissed suggestions in the report that DFO needs a bigger budget.

He suggested instead that the department needs to use its existing resources more wisely — starting with the elimination of the department’s Ottawa bureaucracy.

Similar suggestions surfaced during a controversial review of the 2004 salmon season, and the disappearance of more than one million sockeye expected to migrate back to spawning beds in the Upper Fraser River.

At that review, presided over by former B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Bryan Williams, a senior DFO bureaucrat admitted that several new layers of management have emerged at the department — despite testimony from fisheries officers that they lack the manpower and the funds to properly patrol the river and protect migrating salmon.

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Fisheries and Oceans Canada employs 10,000 people. Most of those employees are deployed on the B.C. Coast.

Pacific Region: 23.5%

Maritimes: 21%

Newfoundland and Labrador: 14%

National Capital Region: 13%

Quebec: 12.5%

Central and Arctic: 12%

Gulf: 4%

Source: Fisheries and Oceans Canada