Jennifer Dart, Westerly News, December 6, 2007
A Ucluelet councillor would like to see the municipality push to secure fishing licenses
in order to keep the industry going in this rural community.
Bill Irving put forward a successful motion in a council meeting last week to ask government for funds to do just that. In an interview with the Westerly, Irving said coastal communities have been lobbying the provincial and federal governments toward this for over a decade.
But he’s renewed the fight after Fisheries and Oceans announced a new program this July. Under this program, called "One Fishery for All of Us", funds will be allocated over five years to do several things, including strengthening catch monitoring, enforcement and reporting, and providing the basis for a new approach of tracking fish from the time they are harvested until they are purchased by the consumer (Ocean to Plate). Part of the funds will also be used to buy back licenses from retiring fishers in order to provide for greater First Nation participation in commercial fisheries.
Native bands, including the Toquaht and Ucluelet, have successfully secured fishing
rights under treaty agreements as well. "With this program, along with treaty, they’ve [First Nations] successfully represented their community’s economic needs in the fishery," Irving said. "They’ve shown, and the government’s acknowledged, how much they need it." This applies not only for the jobs involved, but also for the various economic spin-offs fisheries create, he noted.
"As a municipality, we need to step into the breach and get access to those licenses,"
Irving said. "The First Nations have made the case that they have to have them for the
health of the community. I think that argument applies to non-Native communities as well."
After years of talking about the idea, the license bank model quietly came into existence on the West Coast last year under a private partnership between fishermen, a local company, and the non-profit Ecotrust Canada.
Brenda Reid-Kuecks of Ecotrust said the community-based license bank model is exciting for a variety of reasons: "it is designed to address access, conservation and improved economics for small boat fishermen."
Father and daughter team Danielle and Dan Edwards are the founders of Blue Mosaic, the company that is currently managing the license bank in Ucluelet. Dan is a fisherman who has lobbied extensively for fishery reforms throughout the years. He’s also a board member with the Aquatic Management Board, an organization that has had a mandate to develop a regional bank for several years.
"The big thing that’s missing, as always in this region, is access to capital," Dan said. After experiencing the ups and downs of the industry, the seven fishermen who partnered with Ecotrust Canada decided they just had to go for it and put up their own capital to secure a loan from Ecotrust’s lending arm to buy a rockfish license.
They later received a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation of San
"It showed a great deal of personal commitment on the part of the fishermen,"
The role of the company is to purchase access to licenses and quota. They then lease
it back to the fishermen at a rate they can afford according to fair trade principles.
Although they haven’t yet secured enough quota to account for all the bycatch caught
by the fishermen (they have a halibut license and a one and one third rockfish licenses
with attached quota), they’re working on it. And the model seems to be working, the
Three of the fishermen are from Ucluelet, and the other four from around Vancouver
Dan Edwards said when finding fishermen to partner with, it is difficult to take a regional approach because there are so few people locally still involved in the fishing
industry. "Instead we organized around a fishery and fishermen with a common need –
to secure access to the quota they needed to cover the bycatch in their directed dogfish fishery."
He points to the 2004 Ecotrust report, Catch 22: Conservation, Communities and the
Privatization of B.C. Fisheries, as an indicator of what fisheries policies have done to the industry in coastal communities. "It’s a really awful picture," he said, noting that the majority of non-First Nation licenses are held by urban residents. "It’s not a picture that was well received by government when it came out. The government was painting a picture that the license system was working, saying we don’t need to have license banks."
Getting the licenses back to coastal communities (Danielle Edwards estimates
there were about 40 salmon licenses in Ucluelet in the early 1990s, now there are
fewer than 10) is the hard part. It’s even harder because of the lack of people in the industry these days, Dan said. "It’s a real need when your village is like this – right beside the ocean and there’s no access left," he said.
It is generally easier to build on existing businesses, Danielle said, as with the license
bank. But she said Ecotrust is also looking at opportunities to work with communities to rebuild sustainable fisheries.
And Ecotrust is more than willing to help Ucluelet lobby the government, echoed
Reid-Kuecks. "[We’re] happy to partner with [Bill] and Ucluelet council to do so," she said.