The fisheries system in the North West of Canada needs an overhaul.
That was the message from the Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP, Nathan Cullen, last week when he spoke with media.
An incident between a few fishermen and Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) officers on Aug. 2 has increased tensions in the area, and Canfisco Oceanview plant saw an increased presence of officers.
Frustration is mounting over the changing regulations and restrictive fishing methods, and allowing certain user groups to fish down the coast, a DFO spokesperson stated two weeks ago.
Cullen has been meeting with fishermen and DFO officials this summer and is trying to figure out what the next steps are. He said he wants to bring the new fisheries minister, Dominic LeBlanc, to the northwest “to bring about some fundamental changes to the fisheries system so that it’s the same families again and to stop giving in to a system where only the wealthiest skippers are able to make ends meet and nobody else.”
“All these protests, I think, are manifestations of that struggle people are having.”
DFO has been charging fishermen for having a small amount of bycatch and using it for food fish for First Nations communities and they were called out for it in a UFAWU-Unifor bulletin from July 29.
“A number of DFO policies over the years has really hurt the northern fleet, hurt communities and made it tougher and tougher for people to fish and certainly almost impossible for young people to get in — that is the foundation.Then when you put that pressure on the fishing fleet, issues like bycatch, people fishing a certain way start to come up more often. You can either deal with the symptom or go right to the source,” Cullen said.
His answer is to sit down with DFO and the fisheries minister and reform the fishery. Some of the changes he’d like to see already exist on the East Coast. One example he gave was the owner-operator policy in the Atlantic, where commercial fishing licences are held by an individual or the licence holders’s company.
He also suggests bringing in an allocation that allows people to fish for longer times throughout the year but not as intensely to take some pressure off the fishery, and to work collaboratively with the fishing fleet, First Nations and sport fishermen.
“We’re headed, I believe and many believe, to co-management, particularly in places like Haida Gwaii and Heiltsuk territory and Nuxalk, co-management with First Nations and the federal government,” Cullen said. “If we’re going to manage this properly for fish and for people, then Ottawa has got to learn that they don’t have all the answers and I feel confident saying that because they’ve made so many mistakes over the years.”
The fisheries minister LeBlanc was in Vancouver last week to announce the government’s plan to act on recommendations to restore the Fraser River’s sockeye salmon, however his office has no details on the minister’s schedule beyond that visit.