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Fishing for a future: understanding access issues and well-being among independent fish harvesters in BC (2020)

Executive summary

This report summarizes the results of a survey conducted with active and independent fish harvesters in British Columbia (BC) in 2019. The survey was conducted as part of the 5-year OceanCanada Partnership, which is a SSHRC funded research project at the University of British Columbia that was designed to help Canadian society prepare and plan for the challenges that lie ahead for our coastal and ocean social-ecological systems. A team of researchers and practitioners involved in the OceanCanada Partnership collaborated to develop and implement a survey to better understand issues related to access and well-being of independent fish harvesters from coastal communities in BC. The survey was conducted with 118 fish harvesters along the BC coast during the spring and summer of 2019.

The quantitative questions in the survey focused on understanding participants’ perceptions of:

  • a) life satisfaction, satisfaction with fishing, and human wellbeing,
  • b) perceptions of capacities to fish (physical, human, social, cultural, political and financial assets) to fish, and
  • c) perceptions of fishing access rights (harvesting, entrance, transferability, security of and protection of).

Most survey participants were fairly satisfied with their life overall. They were also quite satisfied with their life as a fish harvester and the non-economic benefits they received from being a fish harvester, but their level of satisfaction with the economic benefits that they received from fishing was lower and more varied. In terms of human well-being, survey participants were mostly quite satisfied with health, social, and cultural aspects of their lives and somewhat satisfied with their overall level of wealth. However, they were relatively unsatisfied with their ability to have a voice in decision-making and their ability to safeguard fisheries livelihoods for future generations. Analysis of participants’ capacities to fish showed that participants generally perceived: strengths in the areas of physical, human and cultural assets; varied status in the areas of social and financial assets; and weaknesses in the areas of political assets. The status and security of fishing access rights were also perceived poorly overall, with the exception of transfer rights.

The qualitative and open-ended questions in the survey focused on:

  • a) issues facing fish harvesters
  • b) proposed solutions to those issues, and
  • c) individual and group actions to maintain or increase access.

Participants identified six main challenges facing fish harvesters: access, quota and licensing; governance and management; competition with other fishing groups; environmental factors; fish farms; and marine protected areas. The most important actions or solutions that participants identified to address those challenges included: protecting and improving access rights; better and more inclusive management; fair treatment for all groups; and, environmental restoration and management. Finally, participants identified the following actions that fish harvesters and their organizations currently take to maintain or gain access: maintenance and preparation; non-political networking and group involvement; political engagement and advocacy; augmenting licences or quota; diversifying and intensifying fishing activities. However, many participants also reported feeling powerless or that their organizations were unable to make a difference.

The survey results presented in this report are relevant to fisheries allocation and management efforts on the Pacific Coast of Canada. The results provide insights into fish harvesters’ perceptions of their life satisfaction and well-being, access capacities and rights, perceived challenges and proposed solutions, and actions to maintain or increase access.

These results highlight a number of key issues for governments and fisheries managers to tackle, which include:

  1. improving participation in fisheries decision-making and management,
  2. addressing significant and ongoing challenges related to licence and quota ownership, and
  3. creating opportunities for the next generation to enter fisheries.

Attending to these issues related to the human dimensions of fisheries is a key part of managing Canadian fisheries for the wellbeing and viability of fish harvesters and coastal communities.

Read the full report: Fishing for a Future Report (2020)

Read the summary: Summary Fishing for a Future Report (2020)

This report is by Nathan Bennett, Natalie Ban, Anna Schuhbauer, Dacotah-Victoria Splichalova, Megan Eadie, Kiera Vandeborne, Jim McIsaac, Eric Angel, Joshua Charleson, Sarah Harper, Tasha Sutcliffe, Erika Gavenus, Rashid Sumaila and Terre Satterfield.