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Ecotrust in the News

The Prince Rupert Daily News
November 18, 2004
By James Vassallo

Study claims rich will get all the fish

A new study investigating the impacts of federal policies on the fishery industry is echoing what fishermen have been arguing for years — quotas kill communities.

"I have a list of 20 communities and it's like a role call for the dead," said Ian Gill, Ecotrust Canada president, referring to a list of communities that have lost the most fishing licences since 1994.

"What we're seeing in B.C. is the result of the erosion of community fisheries and community wealth."

Released Monday, Catch-22: Conservation, Communities and the Privatization of B.C. Fisheries explores the economic, social and ecological impacts of fisheries policy, including the promotion of individual fishery quotas (IFQs), which are currently being touted as a saving grace for the industry in the Treaties in Transition report authored by resource economist Peter Pearse and lawyer Don McRae.

Gill believes that moving to an IFQ system in the salmon fishery will turn places like Prince Rupert into "postcard" communities — a place where tourists go to take a quaint picture of what they think is a fishing village, but one that actually doesn't fish.

"Fisheries contribute more than $600 million to the province's GDP (Gross Domestic Product)," he said. "Yet, when I travel to the coast I see fewer and fewer fishing boats in Masset, Bella Bella, Alert Bay and Ucluelet.

"Fish plants are closing. Communities are losing their connection to the sea. Yet there's still enormous wealth being harvested from marine ecosystems — just not by local people."

An IFQ system essentially privatizes the fishing industry allowing individuals or companies to own a portion of the total allowable catch (TAC). Quotas are bought, sold or traded like shares on a stock exchange with no parameters as to who can own them or how many can be owned.

This gives large companies the ability to "stack" several quotas on a fewer number of boats, putting small fishermen out of business.

"There is no excuse for putting more and more licences in the hands of fewer people," said Gill.

The quota system also drives up the cost of fishing, allowing people in larger urban communities like Vancouver to conceivably own all the fishing licences in areas such as the North Coast and lease them out.

For example, North Coast fishermen only own nine percent of the total quota available in IFQ fisheries, those on the West Coast of Vancouver Island own two-to-three percent and those in Vancouver own 44 percent.

At one time, the problem in the industry was thought to be too many vessels going after too few fish, the result being buy-backs and the mid-1990s' Mifflin Plan, which cut fishing fleets in half. The problem IFQs will create is too much money going after too few fish, says the report.

"Growing capitalization in fishing licences and quota is causing the urbanization of fisheries," said Dr. Astrid Scholz, a resource economist for Ecotrust.

"The resource is being bought up by those with the deepest pockets and could threaten conservation by putting pressure on fishermen to increase catches to finance their large debt-loads."

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has implemented IFQs in the geoduck, halibut, sablefish, groundfish trawl fisheries as well as three shellfish fisheries. The value of some of these licences have increased as much as 400-600 percent since then, to the point where a halibut licence can cost as much as $800,000 and a sablefish licence as much as $3 million.

By 2003, the market value of licences and quotas for B.C. Fisheries amounted to $1.8 billion, six times the capital investment in vessels and equipment.

While at a presentation to city council by the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union (UFAWU-CAW) last week, Coun. Tony Briglio said that in his role as commercial loans manager for Northern Savings Credit union he's seen many fishermen on the North Coast over-extend themselves by taking on more work in an attempt to keep up with rising licensing costs and lower commodity prices.

This problem can be even more difficult for First Nations communities where many fishermen do not own their homes fee-simple on reserves and cannot use them as collateral for loans to buy more licences or quota.

Communities like Lax Kw'alaams (Port Simpson) have had 60 percent of their fleets wiped out by government changes, said Arnie Nagy, UFAWU.

"These things were passed on from the elders to their grand kids," he said. "Now there's nothing."

Ecotrust also believes that IFQs will actually damage attempts at conservation rather than aid them as more pressure is put on individual fishermen to make a quick buck.

As, in most cases, these fishermen will not be the licence owners, they will be required to catch more fish to make their wages and may engage in practices like poaching, throwing back low-priced fish (high-grading) and misreporting catches.

The U.S. National Research Council has concluded that "IFQs are not a conservation tool, they're mainly an economic tool."

Ecotrust recommends that a public registry of all companies and individuals be created to monitor sales, trades and leases of quotas; that DFO establish National Standards protecting the rights of First Nations and small licence holders; that there be funding for and the establishment of Community Quota Entities (CQEs), which would see non-profit societies hold fisheries licenses and quota in trust; that DFO make all data they collect or fund public; and that co-management include a variety of interests such as quota holders, labour, processors, coastal communities, First Nations, environmentalists and other citizens.

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