With changes coming to the Fisheries Act, Prince Rupert city council wants to make sure independent B.C. fishers are included.
“All we’re asking for is parity with the East Coast,” Councillor Barry Cunningham said. “The East Coast has more of a thriving fishery, even though at times it’s in disarray. It’s definitely more beneficial to the communities and the individuals on the East Coast, whereas, in our fishery on the West Coast, corporations are slowly gobbling it up.”
Council moved to bring a resolution to the Union of BC Municipalities, stating owner-operator licences should be applied to the West Coast. It asks that amendments to the Fisheries Act — which were announced by Minister of Fisheries Dominic LeBlanc in February — recognize the social, economic and cultural factors of fishing in B.C. The provincial commercial fishery contributes $800 million in wholesale value to B.C.’s economy, and $400 million of landed value to fishermen.
“These proposed changes to the Fisheries Act would protect middle-class jobs in coastal communities by helping keep the benefits from fishing in the hands of harvesters and local communities,” Mayor Lee Brain said.
“Right now, we’re in a crisis with our fishing here,” Cunningham said. “I think fishermen more than anyone else know how to look after a fishery. If it’s up to the individual fishermen to go out and fish instead of the corporations calling the shots, I think the individual fishermen will take better control of the resource.”
Cunningham pointed to the U.S. as an example. The government is putting $200 million into a fund for fishermen and their communities affected by fish stock reduction. Of the $200 million, Alaska is receiving $56 million.
“So far, we haven’t found one word from our federal government compensating any of the fishermen at any level, whether they be commercial, sports guarded fishermen or anyone getting compensation for the fact that they’re just shutting it down. They’re taking a livelihood out of people’s pockets,” Cunningham said. “This resolution will bring some power to the people on the coast, and especially the fishermen.”
During Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s trip to Prince Rupert on June 21, the Northern View asked him if financial compensation was being considered for those impacted by the loss of salmon stock, just as the East Coast lobster and cod fisheries had received.
“We, of course, are doing everything we can do to prevent that kind of calamity to befall fishermen on the B.C. coast,” Trudeau said. “We know that we have to ensure both responsible development of our natural resources and our fishing stocks while protecting livelihoods for future generations as well.”
Trudeau did not give specific examples of what that would look like.
Councillor Joy Thorkelson moved to add a friendly amendment that the provincial ministry of agriculture review B.C.’s fishing policy and the province work with the federal government on the implementation of a regulatory framework separating owner-operator and adjacency — the premise that those who live around the resource should benefit from that resource.
Thorkelson continued that the provincial government’s new fisheries committee is looking at the economic impact on rural communities. She said this resolution to UBCM could aid that review.
“Right now is the time to strike regarding the economic [sic]. We have a federal government that has opened up the Fisheries Act, that is changing regulations for the East Coast. Wouldn’t take much more for them to change regulations for our coast, too,” Thorkelson said.