In­de­pen­dent fish­er­men: an en­dan­gered species?

The salmon fish­ery is the last in B.C. to hold out against a mar­ket-based man­age­ment sys­tem. Crit­ics ac­cuse the feds of pit­ting in­de­pen­dent fish­er­men against cor­po­rate gi­ants, but what if this new ap­proach gives the lit­tle guy some much-needed fi­nan­cial c

BC Business Magazine - - Front Page - by An­drew Find­lay

Clas­sic rock blares from the wheel­house ra­dio. Skip­per Quincy Sam­ple lay­ers on fi­bre­glass in a waist-deep cock­pit at the stern of his boat, mak­ing re­pairs to the 42-foot ves­sel in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a commercial salmon fish­ery opening in June. Gulls squawk as the guy lines of sail­boats moored nearby sing in the breeze.

Sam­ple, 43, was born in Saska­toon but raised within spit­ting dis­tance of the ocean in Pen­der Har­bour on the Sun­shine Coast. He's been fish­ing since his early teens. His lan­guage is as salty as the air on this spring af­ter­noon at Co­mox Har­bour, where he ties up the Es­ther Sam­ple (chris­tened af­ter his wife) when not chas­ing hal­ibut, her­ring, cod or salmon. When it comes to mak­ing a liv­ing, commercial fish­ing is all Sam­ple has ever known.

“I can't imag­ine do­ing any­thing else,” he says as he climbs out of the cock­pit, look­ing slightly in­tox­i­cated from the epoxy fumes. “I'll al­ways be a fish­er­man.”

The commercial salmon fish­ing game can be se­duc­tive, but the rules keep chang­ing. Young fish­er­man face ris­ing en­try costs, and strik­ing a bal­ance be­tween com­merce and sus­tain­abil­ity re­mains as elu­sive as it was early last cen­tury, when boats net­ted a seem­ingly in­ex­haustible sup­ply of Fraser River sock­eye. Since 1990 the prov­ince's wild salmon har­vest has de­clined from nearly 100,000 tonnes to about 20,000, with a whole­sale value of be­tween $150 mil­lion and $170 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the B.C. Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture. As for in­de­pen­dent fish­er­men like Quincy Sam­ple, they're watch­ing the in­creas­ing cor­po­ra­ti­za­tion of their in­dus­try and the con­cen­tra­tion of fish­ing rights in fewer hands.

Many crit­ics point to Fish­eries and Oceans Canada (the DFO) and its in­di­vid­ual trans­fer­able quo­tas, or ITQS. When it emerged in the 1970s, this made-in-b.c. fish­eries man­age­ment con­cept aimed to address what was con­sid­ered an un­ten- able sit­u­a­tion: fish­er­men rac­ing to catch as much they could of the quota as­signed to a par­tic­u­lar stock. The DFO dis­liked the so-called derby fish­ery for sev­eral rea­sons. Be­sides lead­ing to more fish be­ing caught than were al­lo­cated, it threat­ened crew safety be­cause of its com­pet­i­tive­ness and made con­ser­va­tion-based man­age­ment tough.

ITQS gave fish­er­men a des­ig­nated amount of quota, which be­came a trad­able good, like a share on the stock mar­ket. Quota can be bought or leased: in the B.C. hal­ibut fish­ery, fully cov­ered by an ITQ sys­tem since 1991, the quota pur­chase price is more than $100 a pound, ac­cord­ing to Ecotrust Canada and the T. Buck Suzuki En­vi­ron­men­tal Foun­da­tion. Although quota be­gan as a num­ber on a piece of paper with mod­est value, it now looks like a lot­tery win for fish­er­men lucky enough to get in early. ITQS re­moved the race to fish, but they also spawned a clash of ide­olo­gies around how commercial fish­ing is man­aged.

Joy Thorkel­son, a tough- talk­ing Prince Ru­pert city coun­cil­lor and a long­time rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the United Fish­er­man and Al­lied Work­ers' Union ( UFAWU), says ITQS have in­flated the cost of quota— dis­cour­ag­ing new en­trants into commercial fish­ing—and whit­tled away fish­er­men's bot­tom line. They've also led to the rise of arm­chair fish­er­men who make profit from stay­ing at home and leas­ing out their quota, she adds.

Thorkel­son gets fu­ri­ous think­ing about how fish­ing rights and con­trol, thanks to what she con­sid­ers a con­certed ef­fort by the DFO to im­pose ITQS, have mi­grated up the food chain to the likes of Cana­dian Fish­ing Co. Part of the Jim Pat­ti­son Group, Can­fisco is a ver­ti­cally in­te­grated com­pany that owns li­cences, quota and fish­ing ves­sels in most fish­eries on the coast, plus pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties in B.C. and Alaska that to­gether han­dle some 20,000 tonnes of salmon an­nu­ally. (In late 2015, Can­fisco closed its Ocean­side fish can­nery in Prince Ru­pert, the last in the prov­ince, elim­i­nat­ing sev­eral hundred sea­sonal jobs and roughly 20 high-paid trades po­si­tions—and fur­ther an­ger­ing the UFAWU.)

Salmon is the last ma­jor West Coast fish­ery to re­sist full im­ple­men­ta­tion of the ITQ sys­tem. The rea­sons are as com­plex as the fish are to man­age: five species, three fleets ( gill­net, seine and troll) and fish­er­men's in­de­pen­dent streak, strong as a tidal rip. Thorkel­son claims that more than 90 per cent of UFAWU mem­bers op­pose ITQS. So far, the commercial salmon sec­tor re­mains mostly a derby fish­ery, with catch lim­its at­tached to a stock and gear type dur­ing an opening that can last any­where from a few hours to sev­eral days.

The UFAWU is lob­by­ing the DFO to make owner-op­er­a­tor and fleet sep­a­ra­tion pro­vi­sions part of any fur­ther fish­ery man­age­ment changes. It's some­thing that Thorkel­son says Atlantic fish­er­men fought hard for when they won con­ces­sions as the agency im­posed ITQS on the East Coast. Owner-op­er­a­tor provi- sions re­quire the in­di­vid­ual who owns the quota to be on the wa­ter fish­ing it; fleet sep­a­ra­tion pre­vents fish buy­ers and pro­ces­sors from dom­i­nat­ing the fish­ing fleet, whether it's by di­rectly pur­chas­ing quota and li­cences, or of­fer­ing fi­nanc­ing to fish­er­men in ex­change for ex­clu­sive rights to their catch.

“What we need is a sys­tem that works for work­ing fish­er­men on the wa­ter, and ITQS don't,” Thorkel­son says from the UFAWU of­fice in Prince Ru­pert. “It's be­com­ing more about the stock mar­ket and less about the game of fish­ing.”

Thorkel­son has an ally in Eve­lyn Pinker­ton, a mar­itime an­thro­pol­o­gist at SFU'S School of Re­source and En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment, who has writ­ten ex­ten­sively about com­mu­nity man­age­ment and con­trol of fish­ery re­sources. Pinker­ton ar­gues that a ne­olib­eral at­ti­tude has in­fected the fed­eral fish­eries bu­reau­cracy and is play­ing into the hands of cor­po­ra­tions while down­load­ing costs onto ev­ery­day work­ing fish­er­men.

Pinker­ton co-au­thored a 2009 paper called “Ele­phant in the Room” that as­sailed the im­pact of ITQS on the B.C. hal­ibut fish­ery. In the 1990s that fish­ery was one of the first to adopt them, fol­low­ing a rec­om­men­da­tion by econ­o­mist Peter Pearse, now an emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics and forestry at UBC, who headed the 1982 Com­mis­sion on Pa­cific Fish­eries Pol­icy for the DFO. The SFU aca­demic tells Bcbusi­ness that this led to an in­vestor class “who make more money leas­ing quota than fish­ing it,” as well as con­sol­i­da­tion of fish­ery con­trol in the hands of pro­ces­sors like Can­fisco. Although the value of the hal­ibut fish­ery grew by 25 per cent be­tween 1990 and 2007, the pro­por­tion that ended up in the pock­ets of boat crews plunged by 73 per cent, ac­cord­ing to Pinker­ton.

Her paper sparked a re­join­der from Bruce Tur­ris, a former DFO econ­o­mist and cur­rently ex­ec­u­tive man­ager of the Cana­dian Ground­fish Re­search and Con­ser­va­tion Coun­cil, who cited a “lack

“ITQS make sense be­cause it spreads out the fish­ing ef­fort over a longer pe­riod of time and en­ables us to get the best high­qual­ity prod­uct to mar­ket in a timely man­ner” -Rob Morley, Can­fisco

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