Joy Thorkelson is wondering who will stand up for the commercial fishing industry in light of another dismal season on the North Coast.
“The Skeena fishing story is, unfortunately, a sad one again this year. This season the Department of Fisheries predicted the Skeena run size to be 2.64 million sockeye. They allowed the commercial fleet to catch 474,081 sockeye or 18 per cent of the run,” she wrote in a letter indicating the United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union is pushing for a 40 per cent allotment after approximately 1.9 million reached Babine Lake.
“A 40 per cent harvest would have given the commercial fleet a catch of one million sockeye instead of the 475,000 that DFO thought was enough. A 40 per cent harvest would have brought an extra $6 million to fishermen and doubled shore-workers’ earnings. North Coast communities would be a-buzz.”
Thorkelson had the opportunity to raise some of her questions directly with government when the Ministry of Natural Resource’s fish and wildlife manager for the Skeena region, Dana Atagi, came before council on Sept. 2. Atagi said while the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was responsible for opening and closing fisheries, the well-being of the commercial fishing industry was a priority for the provincial government.
“One of the things in our policy document is that it recognizes the commercial industry and that the province, and the various sectors in the province, recognize that there are commercial objectives to be achieved and a balance to be found to get the fish up the river and maintain a commercial fishery on the coast,” he said.
“It really is about the selective opportunities that will be available in the commercial fishery that will ameliorate and achieve that balance. I don’t know how we get there, but we are not so naive to believe that there are equitable interests on both sides of the ledger.”
The lack of a commitment from the provincial representatives to policy change, however, didn’t create much reason for optimism for Thorkelson.
“Is there somebody in the Province who is going to say that the commercial fishing industry also has a right to exist and that there needs to be a balance because we have seen … no balance within the ministry’s statements and policy,” she said.
“I was looking for a champion for the commercial fishing industry. I don’t expect to find a champion for the commercial sector within the DFO, but I was hoping to find one somewhere in the province.”