North Coast fisheries have one more fighter in their ring after Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP candidate Nathan Cullen visited Canfisco for an announcement on Saturday.
Cullen appeared with United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union (UFAWU) northern representative, Joy Thorkelson to advocate the processing of fish that have been caught on the North Coast to stay on the North Coast, instead of being exported elsewhere in Canada, the United States or China to be processed.
“There’s three commitments we’re making here today that I think would strongly support the fishing community and the North Coast in general,” said Cullen.
“The NDP is committed to bringing in what’s called a pertinency – bringing in rules and regulations that require fisheries to actually process the fish near to where they’re caught. A second thing we want to change is that we want to end the mass export of roe and fish unprocessed to other countries and lastly, and this is important as well, to fix the employment insurance program, which as many as 70 per cent of fisheries workers pay into but can never draw from, particularly seasonal workers. We know they’re taking a huge hit especially in the off-years we’re having like this one.”
Earlier in the year, the UFAWU were predicting a 3.5 million run return of sockeye salmon on the Skeena. The reality once summer hit, was that only 850,000 have been caught, and weighing in at much smaller weights than usual.
Many factors have contributed to this year’s low numbers, including warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures and a toxic algae bloom on the B.C. coast.
Thanks to the low return, many fishermen on the North Coast haven’t been able to claim their employment insurance due to not meeting minimum qualifications needed – another standard that Thorkelson noted has been declining.
“Our Canadian fish are being sent over to China to be processed which is a growing problem and our shore-workers at this plant used to process herring roe and now the herring roe that was being processed here, some of it’s being processed in Vancouver … We fight hard to get access to fish on the North Coast for our fishermen and when we finally get access on the North Coast to fish, our processing sector is not healthy because companies are choosing to process it somewhere else,” said Thorkelson.
Cullen added that for fishing companies complaining about added costs to process fish in the north, that answers are available.
“Part of our policy in the NDP is to help with that investment to make it easier and much smoother for companies to make those companies to make those investments, so any company crying poverty or that the feds are not offering those solutions, it’s absolutely not true. The solutions are there, they just need to take them and they need some guiding hand to restore back the connection between the place, the people and the resource,” said Cullen.