Skeena Valley-Bulkley MP Taylor Patras criticized the Liberal government this week over the need for West Coast fisheries reform.
The NDP MP drew applause over the controversy surrounding British Columbia’s fishing industry monopoly and foreign ownership.
“Commercial fishing licenses should not be treated like a private stock market that is controlled by big corporations,” he said.
In 2019, the Commission on Fisheries and Oceans made 20 recommendations to reform the way commercial fishing licenses and quotas are distributed in British Columbia.
The goal was to address monopoly concerns — including limiting ownership by foreign investors who may never have stepped on a fishing boat. Liberal MP Ken Hardy has described BC’s current commercial fishing system as “modern feudalism”.
Central to the discussion is the Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ), a transferable fish share, meaning the owner can either fill the stake by fishing, or sell the stake to someone else.
Only Canadian citizens or permanent residents can obtain fishing licenses, but foreign companies are allowed to buy and sell ITQs without government interference. It turns out that buying and selling ITQs is very profitable.
In 2015 for example, halibut ITQs were renting for $7-9/lb when the actual price of fish was $8.25-9.50/lb. This meant that the owners took 85 percent of the total value, leaving the fishermen with very little profits to pay their crews, maintain their ships, and purchase supplies.
Also central to the issue is the decline in salmon populations thanks to complex problems such as climate change and habitat loss, according to the 2019 State of Pacific Canadian Salmon report.
Despite the 2019 recommendations, the Liberal government has not implemented a single change.
“There is a huge opportunity here, Mr. Speaker, for people and communities. We need the political will to get this done.”
In 2007, the Stephen Harper government reformed Atlantic fisheries to ensure that the benefits of licenses remain with fishers and the communities in which they live.
Some of the changes enacted in 2007 include immediate inspection of vessels caught falsely reporting their catch and penalties for vessel owners such as fines, license suspension, gear confiscation or illegal fishing.
Bachrach hopes that similar changes will be implemented in BC
“The maximum value of the fish caught should go to the people doing the work and BC fishing should be addressed in BC communities,” he said.
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