Good afternoon, everyone.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are studying the regulation of west coast fisheries.
Today we have a number of witnesses who are appearing in person, and we have witnesses appearing by video conference. I'll start by introducing everybody who is presenting today.
As an individual, we have fisher Chris Cook. From the BC Seafood Alliance, we have Christina Burridge, the executive director, and Chris Sporer, executive manager, Pacific Halibut Management Association. From the Canadian Fishing Company, appearing by video conference, we have Phil Young, vice-president, fisheries and corporate affairs. From the Grand Hale Marine Products Co. Ltd, we have John Nishidate, general manager. Again by video conference, representing the Hub City Fisheries, we have Roger Paquette, president. From the Sport Fishing Institute of British Columbia, we have Owen Bird, executive director, and Martin Paish, director of business development. Welcome, all.
We'll start with statements from the guests. We'll do our video conference statements first, in case we run into some technical difficulties. Hopefully we won't have any trouble at all.
Before I do that, I want to welcome Mr. Miller back; he's a former member of the committee. Good to see you back again, sir.
My name is Phil Young. I've been in the B.C. seafood industry for 34 years, the last four years with the Canadian Fishing Company. Nearly every other company that I once worked for is gone, two of them due to consolidation, as our access to salmon and herring resources has declined due to nature and government policies.
I have a varied background in the industry, including sales, operations, fleet management and general management. I've had to shut plants down in smaller communities when the resource can no longer support the infrastructure. Telling workers of 30 years in smaller communities that their jobs are gone is not a fun thing to do.
I've sold boats out of the country, as the costs of maintenance were greater than they could earn during a three-week herring season and four-week salmon season.
I've lived through the restructuring of companies and the industry that have had to adapt to changes in societal values. I've watched public policies be implemented that don't seem to value an industry that puts food on the tables of Canadians in a sustainable manner.
Through it all, I've been part of the corporate side of the industry that has continued to evolve, invest and contribute to the lives of fishermen, shore workers and the economy of Canada, without asking for subsidies or handouts.
I've always tried to look beyond just the company I work for to see the bigger picture. I've been a director on industry associations for herring, groundfish, salmon and hake. I'm currently the president of the industry association responsible for the Marine Stewardship Council certification of B.C. salmon. I sit on national associations and international panels for the Government of Canada.
What I have to say today doesn't come from the perspective of a single company nor an outsider's perspective of the industry, but what has happened in the B.C. seafood industry. I've lived it, and I've felt it.
Our industry has changed, with less salmon and herring, leading to fewer companies, fewer fishermen and fewer plants. Technological changes have impacted labour requirements. Regulations in the processing sector for increased food safety have resulted in skyrocketing costs and the consolidation of plants. Salmon harvests are down 66% over the last 22 years, and herring is down 50%. Salmon no longer come into Canada from Alaska. We used to process their fish.
However, the industry has also grown in many ways. New species like geoduck, urchins, sea cucumbers and prawns have all been valuable additions. Quota management plans for halibut, black cod, groundfish and hake have all increased the value of the resource and helped to keep harvest within sustainable levels.
We have become far more sustainable, but there's been a cost to these lower harvests, both in fewer fishing jobs and fewer plants in rural communities.
Last year, our plant in Prince Rupert processed fish for a grand total of 28 days. In 2017, we put 2.4 million pounds of salmon through that plant. In 2018, it was 680,000 pounds. This is a plant that was built to do 1.5 million pounds of salmon a day, and we're doing that in a season.
It seems that somehow all of the negative changes in the industry seem to be laid at the feet of my current company. People have come before you with stories of our dominance in the industry and how we're using our market powers to keep new entrants out of the fishery. I can tell you that this is exactly the opposite of what we want. We know we need younger people in the industry, but they need to feel that they have a future. They have to feel that there will be a commercial fishery for them. At least some people believe that, because we've had two new people buy into our boats this year as complete fifty-fifty partners.
Rob Morley from our company brought you the facts two years ago. Canfisco owns 32% of the salmon seine licences, two gillnet licences and no troll. Overall, it's 4% of the salmon licences.
We are recognized. We buy about 37% of all the salmon on our coast, but we do that by buying from independent harvesters.
We own 30% of the salmon seine, 12% of the herring seine and 12% of the herring gillnet licences. In quota fisheries, we own 21% of groundfish quota, 15% of hake, 3% of halibut and 2% of sablefish. These are verifiable numbers, and we would support a licence registry that makes this even more transparent. Thus, contrary to misinformed reports and statements made before this very committee last week, Canfisco does not control all of the licences in B.C.
But yes, there are issues. In some fisheries, mostly ones that we're not involved with, the issue of distribution of benefits can be a concern. As a company that uses our quotas to fish, we need the options of moving, leasing fish so that we can meet our sustainability imperative.
Our company is a net lessee of quota. We bring in more than we have ourselves to be able to fish all the fish. We utilize our own quotas and have to lease quota from others. The entire groundfish management plan is predicated on being able to move fish around so that the harvest can be maximized while remaining within sustainable harvest limits. In non-quota fisheries, for example in the herring fishery, it couldn't even exist right now if you had just a single licence on the boat. There are just far too many boats for the available harvest. With salmon it's the exact same thing. If you have a single licence, you just can't make it work with the fish available.
You've seen the results of that with boats being sold out of the country and licences sitting on the shelf. Industy and DFO have recognized these problems and provided us a way to self-rationalize, rather than have the government buy back all the excess capacity.
I'd like to leave you with one final thought. As a company, we're willing to work with the rest of the B.C. industry to engage in solutions that work for our industry and our coast, but we have to recognize we cannot ever go back on the conservation and sustainability achievements that we have attained or we will lose access to our markets.
Thanks very much.
First, I will say thank you for allowing me to be a witness to the parliamentary committee on this very important topic.
As you said, my name is Roger Paquette. I am appearing today as a representative from Hub City Fisheries, which is a fish company that has been operating on the west coast for the past 40 years. I have personally owned and managed this business over the years and have seen many changes in our west coast fishery. I have been closely involved with the fishermen over these years in helping to decide the best way to invest in the future of the fishing industry.
With the introduction of the Mifflin plan in the early 1990s, the mandate was to reduce the size of the fleet so as to increase the viability and sustainability of the remaining fleet. A lot of decisions were made by fishermen based on the government's guidance and planning to accomplish these better results for the industry. Since then, this has not happened and only has had the exact opposite results for the fishing industry.
Fishing vessels had multiple species of fish on each vessel, which enabled them to be diversified enough to have the ability to sustain their livelihood. Over the years, these different licences that were held by fishermen were eventually reduced to single fisheries. With the different changes that came about with the introduction of quota fisheries, fishermen were forced to either purchase more quotas or lease quotas on an annual basis, or merely volunteer to leave the industry.
Some of these fishermen who left the industry had no option, as they could not afford to pay for the ever-climbing values of these quotas or could not secure stable leasing arrangements.
At the present time, after years of various changes, there remain a limited number of fishermen participating in each separate fishery on our coast, still with many financial challenges. With the quota regime in place, it has allowed a smaller number of fishermen owning these quotas to control the larger number of fishermen, who are forced to pay unfair lease fees to continue fishing each season.
One could argue that they are not forced to pay these, but without an opportunity to fish, they have no possible way to make the living that they know and to maintain self-respect for themselves, their families and fellow fishermen.
The people—some fishermen, some corporate entities and some foreign investors—controlling the licences have the ability to ask for sometimes very unfair lease fees, sometimes as high as 80%.
Hub City Fisheries and I have full involvement in every aspect of the industry, and it is clear to see, in my opinion and that of many others, that there is a serious flaw in how the resource is managed and how the value of the fishery is shared. This is not a realistic share arrangement and has placed many fishermen in financial hardship, while quota licence-holders have done well.
It is important to have a true balance of fishermen and coastal communities that are able to earn a respectable income. That will allow these boats to share their catch dollars in terms of the survival of these coastal communities that are struggling for incomes and struggling to maintain the infrastructure necessary to serve both the fishing fleet and their communities. It is critical to maintain owner-operators through our fishery to allow the fleet size that will support both the families of these fishermen and those of the coastal communities, for both the self-respect and the integrity of the west coast fish people. From a fish-processing point of view, having a viable group of fishing vessels that are diversified in all fisheries keeps up the year-round activity for fish plant workers, truckers and all the integrated aspects that are involved and that allow it to function.
The west coast troll fishery has reached a critical benchmark at the present time, with an unfair sharing of the resource. I have also been an area G west coast troll harvest committee member for the past 20 plus years and have watched the share for these fishermen go from 80% of the catch to the commercial fishermen in 2005, down in this year of 2019 to a season allocation of 10% to 12%, with the majority of this total allowable catch going to the sport industry for 2019.
Going back a bit, there was a sport priority policy implemented in 1999 for five years, which was at that time approximately 20% of the total allowable catch.
There was never any mention of allowing this to become a runaway train, destined to bankrupt this troll fishery in 2019. This fishery needs immediate, serious attention before it is too late.
We have met with senior management: Rebecca Reid, Jeff Grout and Andrew Thomson. Since the meeting, they've shown very little regard for this devastating situation, saying only that this fishery is in the second or third spot in the sports priority policy. That ended in 2004, according to the agreement I read. It got extended along the way somehow, but I'm not sure how.
The Government of Canada is in possession of approximately $17 million from the 2009 Pacific Salmon Treaty. Area G has been the sole user group that has had in excess of $40 million of loss over the last 10 years in this treaty. We in area G had been promised that there would be a fair consultation on the use of these funds. We are in doubt that we will ever have a timely and fair solution, and we respectfully ask for the intervention of the standing committee.
With these reduced volumes of fish catches, particularly salmon, the Government of Canada has neglected to allow for much needed dollars for the enhancement of salmon from fish hatcheries, which would help to return the salmon to the plentiful levels of past years.
Predation is also a problem. It has been a serious problem for 20 plus years, with no regard or attention from any level of government. The numbers of these predators have increased by astronomical proportions, while stocks of many fish species have declined drastically. It is time that they act responsibly, before it is too late, and put measures in place to deal with this out-of-balance predation situation. The seal and sea lion numbers are out of balance and out of proportion. They place our fish stocks in grave danger for most of our commercial fisheries.
In closing, I'll say that since 1990, DFO and the Government of Canada have not accomplished any significant improvements in our west coast fishery. We have decreased our returns on sockeye by 50% over the past three Adams River cycles of 2010, 2014 and 2018, which is alarming, and there are no solutions in place from DFO.
I am asking the standing committee to please consider my input on the real-time problems that we are dealing with, and not to allow many of the issues to continue on with political agendas and without serious input from the fishing community.
I'm appreciative that I had this opportunity to voice my points of concern. For that, I say thank you.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and committee members, for inviting us here. As you heard, I'm from the B.C. Seafood Alliance. I'm here with one of my members, Chris Sporer from the Pacific Halibut Management Association.
We are the largest commercial fishing organization on the west coast. We represent the owners and operators of commercially licensed vehicles ranging from less than 40 feet to over 120 feet.
We're here to provide some context for the west coast fishery, and how very different it is from Atlantic fisheries in geography, history, species and structure.
There's no question that B.C. fishermen are fearful. Much of this has to do with uncertainty over the future, thanks to marine protection, which could put many conservatively managed fisheries out of business; and over how reconciliation will work in fisheries. Without secure access to the resource, fishermen do not see a future for themselves.
While the alliance has no official position, a number of my members are also concerned about social inequities in the fisheries: the sharing of risks and benefits. They believe “made in B.C.” solutions through their respective DFO advisory processes need to be developed.
For context, I want first to tackle the myth of the underperformance of west coast fisheries, the argument that our fisheries, unlike Atlantic or Alaskan fisheries, show increasing volume but declining value. Comparing volume and value between regions depends almost entirely on the species mix. Using constant dollars to adjust for inflation, the increase in the value of Atlantic catch is lobster. Take out lobster, and Atlantic Canada is in pretty much the same situation as B.C.
In B.C. we've seen something rather different happen. Harvests of high-value salmon, herring, halibut and sablefish have declined for conservation, reallocation and market reasons, while harvests of low-value species—hake, arrowtooth flounder and pollock—have increased significantly. Careful management has reduced the harvest volume of B.C. groundfish and shellfish to conservative levels, and management changes have significantly increased value in many species.
I have five messages I'd like you to consider.
First, long-standing Atlantic owner-operator and fleet separation policies do not fit in B.C. because of the way our fisheries have evolved, and continue to evolve to ensure conservation and sustainable management.
Second, this evolution is in response to the changing environment: ecosystem understanding, marine planning, reconciliation, markets and social and economic impacts.
Third, before considering changes aimed at addressing the sharing of benefits and risks, the committee needs to understand how B.C. fisheries are managed.
Fourth, barriers to new entrance and intergenerational transfer include the lack of long-term access to the resource, capital and stable income.
Lastly, any new management measures impacting the distribution of fishery benefits and risks need to be developed collaboratively with B.C. commercial fishery participants to ensure that they are not detrimental to conservation and economic stability.
I have a few quick words on the evolution of fisheries management in B.C.
Since the extension of jurisdiction to 200 nautical miles in 1977, fisheries management has evolved differently on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Atlantic policy is driven by adjacency, protecting provincial fishery access and maintaining an inshore/midshore fleet of less than 65 feet.
B.C. really is different. It's only one coastal province, so the adjacency principle was never relevant.
For more than a century, processors have provided boats, gear, shoreside services and short-term loans to enable fishermen to go fishing.
Limited entry licencing in 1969 was the first of many efforts to reduce too many boats chasing too few fish, and it inevitably issued too many licences and created value in licences. Since then, these have been fully transferable and available to Canadian citizens and companies.
Most, but not all, limited entry licences are vessel-based, rather than party-based as in Atlantic Canada. Multiple ownership of a vessel is common and often means multiple ownership of the associated licences and quota allocations. So, licence owners are more diverse than they might appear. There are many different fisheries in B.C., and dozens, or maybe hundreds, of different ownership arrangements.
Generally, far too many commercial licences were issued for a well-managed, viable fishery. According to Peter Pearse in 1982, for the roe herring fishery, the “Department's goal was to issue 150 seine and 450 gillnet licences”. In fact, 252 seine licences and over 1,300 gillnet licences were issued, “far in excess of the capacity required to harvest the available catch.”
This excess capacity was incompatible with conservation objectives. That's weak stock management, sustainable harvest levels, accurate accounting for the catch. It was also incompatible with economic viability and it compromised fishing safety.
Fisheries therefore started adopting new management measures, such as at-sea and shoreside monitoring, IVQs, quota transferability, area licencing, and licence and gear stacking, as a means to rationalize that excess capacity, provide economic benefits and improve safety for the remaining operators while meeting conservation goals.
The example of the commercial groundfish integrated program integrates the management of 66 different fish stocks, seven limited-entry licensed fisheries and three gear types. It requires full accountability for every fish caught, retained or discarded and 100% at-sea monitoring and dockside monitoring. The David Suzuki Foundation considers it to be among the best-managed fisheries on the planet. It could not operate without quota transferability—leasing—within and between the fleets.
My last message is that we cannot go backwards on conservation. B.C. fishermen need to find their own solutions, not have one imposed from the top down, because that won't work.
Grand Hale Marine is a small-to-medium sized family-owned and -operated seafood processing and export company located in Richmond, B.C. It was founded by immigrants from Hong Kong. Starting with nothing in the early 1990s, we quickly became known for our quality sea urchin harvested from B.C. and exported to Japan for the sushi market. From there, we expanded to process other products such as salmon, spot prawns, sea cucumbers, herring roe and salmon caviar—mostly for the Japanese and Asian markets, but we also expanded into new markets in Europe.
Now we have three processing buildings, two located in Richmond and one in Port Edward, B.C., near Prince Rupert. That one's for sale. They're all self-funded.
We employ up to 180 people per year—or we used to—many of whom were first nations. We buy fish from independent B.C. fishermen up and down the coast in small coastal communities and follow the fish and seasons.
For sea urchin, it was a free-for-all fishery with about 110 licences. Just before voluntarily becoming a quota fishery, catch was basically doubling year over year to about 23 million pounds, which was totally unsustainable. The boom-and-bust catch caused all sorts of problems. Oversupply dropped prices. Processing was a nightmare, trying to process it before it went bad, and the quality of the harvest from some divers was a problem.
Now we have a total allowable catch of 10 million pounds, but only about 30 active vessels, plus or minus. The IVQ system weeded out harvesters who cared more about quantity than quality. It also controlled the supply to accommodate the market and made it more sustainable. Fishermen get paid for quality, and we pay more for it.
Remoteness of fishing areas, weather, size of vessels and limited daily harvests are all limiting factors. Also, the age of divers and workers and limited recruitment into the industry are some of our biggest challenges. For the most part, we have divers and boats that have fished for us for 20-plus years. They are a very important part of our business. It's long-term thinking and relationship building that make for a strong industry.
Grand Hale owns and also leases licences. We own vessels, but everybody can tell you that a boat is just a hole in the water that you pour money into. Some of our divers own licences and operate vessels, but some don't own licences, just the vessels. In those cases, we designate our licences to their vessels. Sometimes we charge a lease fee and sometimes we charge zero. If we lease it out to the diver, it's 1¢ a pound; it's basically a zero lease. We also pay for the DFO licence fee, which takes up about half of that lease.
We fund in advance to help our fishermen get started, to gear up for the season. We prepay the validation and catch monitoring fees. All of our loans to our fishermen are interest-free. We have also financed fishermen to get their own licences when the banks would not.
Since the volume of available TAC has been reduced in most fisheries—for example salmon—for various reasons, mostly conservation, a boat needs to do a few licences in a season to make the operation work, or it does other species or other businesses in the off-season.
Operations and licences have been passed down in some families from father to son or kept in estates. Whether the licence was obtained before quota or after, the right to realize the value of the licence must be maintained, just as with a farmer in the supply management system. They buy in, produce and pass it on to their descendants or sell out. Fishermen 55 or younger in the industry do have an opportunity to work, make a living, own vessels and own licences. As in all industries, it does take effort, sacrifice and hard work to continue, and choosing the right partner is important.
For sure, this is not an industry of instant gratification. Part of the reason that Grand Hale holds licences is to secure supply and provide orderly processing and marketing to supply our customers' demands and achieve the highest product quality. We provide the quota to fishermen we trust to harvest quality and they voluntarily accept our quota.
We pay competitive, fair prices to our fishermen, otherwise they would not fish for us and our quota would not be fished. Capital to finance and build an urchin operation is not easy to find, and the banks are not willing to lend on licence or quota because of the risk that the government will take it away without compensation.
I would watch out for unintended consequences. Some of the largest licence-holders and quota holders are first nations people and some are first nations bands. Some of our first nations fishers lease salmon licences from their bands or from other first nations, and we advance those funds to them to do so. Many first nations communities have lost their infrastructure, people, skills and knowledge to conduct fishing.
In our view, PICFI didn't really help the situation because they changed the rules. Basically, there was a willing buyer, and they raised prices, especially around fiscal year-end. They did not buy vessels to match. Many first nations just lease back to commercial fleets at higher rates, undermining the intention of PICFI: getting first nations into the industry and employment.
PICFI also took licences out of the commercial sector and gave them to first nations free of charge, and did not replace the lost revenue to DFO, so DFO has less funding. Then, shortfalls and program funding were forced on industry if we wanted to have a fishery opened. This just increased the cost of doing business.
Why not make a PICFI-like grant or loan program for all young Canadians who want to fish for a living?
For shared benefits our answer is, basically: find a better boss. We have a boat working for us whose diver was on a competitive vessel. He didn't like the situation there, so he went out, bought a vessel and gear, and now he fishes for us and he gets better prices.
Thank you very much.
I will hand it off to Martin, but I'll begin.
Hello, and thank you for the opportunity to appear before this committee once again.
My name is Owen Bird and my colleague is Martin Paish. We're here to talk about the study of the regulation of the west coast fisheries, and we both represent the Sport Fishing Institute of British Columbia, or the SFI.
I'll take a moment to provide details about our organization and about the values of sport fishery in British Columbia and our continued interest in seeing the sector provided with appropriate resources to be effectively managed and to maximize opportunities. Martin will detail our concerns and specific experiences with quota.
The SFI is a non-profit association that represents the interests of 300,000 licensed tidal water anglers in B.C. and the hundreds of businesses that support them. According to the 2016 provincial sector report, sport fishing and related businesses produce $1.1 billion in annual sales and create more than 9,000 jobs and 3,950 person-years of employment, resulting in a $398-million contribution to the province's GDP.
Sport fishery is the single largest economic driver of all B.C. fisheries, even though anglers take only 15% of the annual halibut catch and less than 10% of the annual salmon harvest. As of 2010, the last update to the Fisheries and Oceans national recreational fishing survey—a survey that has been conducted every five years since 1975—said the sport fishing contribution to the Canadian economy was $8.3 billion annually. Yet efforts by the department to entrench reliable opportunity for the recreational sector—a very different requirement than for purely harvest-based fisheries—have been minimal.
It has long appeared that the ability to meet the unique needs of the recreational sector are affected by the predisposition of the department to focus on the management of commercial fisheries. While it is acknowledged that the largest harvester should receive the greatest attention, we believe it is also reasonable that the fishery that produces a significantly higher value per fish, is responsible for only an estimated 4% of all fish harvested in Canada and touches the lives socially and economically of millions of Canadians would receive an appropriate level of dedicated resources to manage it to best advantage.
In recognition of the different needs of the sector—reliability and opportunity—it would be reasonable to consider fishing plans with those needs in mind. However, what we've seen over many years and by governments previous to this one is diminished funding and attention to the recreational sector. As an example, while national policy and fisheries management directives explain that catch monitoring is critical to sound management, the funds made available for those purposes for the recreational sector have been continually eroded.
However, we continue to be optimistic that the recreational vision—a co-operatively developed proposal to provide appropriate funding to the management of recreational fisheries and to recognize the values and unique needs of the sector—will be adopted and implemented.
The recreational fishery experience with quotas and owner-operator issues has been limited, to this time, to priority access discussions specifically with regard to chinook and coho salmon and to the halibut fishery, its quota-based allocation policy, and the XRQ licence. It's with halibut where first-hand experience with quota provides an opportunity to comment and offers an example of how ill-suited the recreational sector is to quota-based scenarios and to establishing access through quota acquisition.
The recreational sector is dependent on reliable opportunity. While it's understood that quota is an effective and likely necessary tool for managing commercial fisheries, it is, in the case of the recreational sector, a limiting and unnecessarily divisive factor. The halibut quotas established in 2003 and 2012 did not fully recognize the needs of the recreational sector, and, as halibut biomass is lowered, the percentage-based access has significantly compromised the ability of the sector to generate maximum benefit from the resource by eroding reliable opportunity and increasing uncertainty and instability.
The halibut licence experimental licence pilot program, or XRQ, is a by-product of an attempt to integrate recreational fisheries into a quota system. DFO's insistence that it could establish a successful market-based transfer mechanism through the temporary leasing of commercial quota to recreational anglers has been, by any measure, a failure. The program is struggling, both because it reinforces the notion that the opportunity to catch a halibut is a private property right that can be bought and sold and because it mixes commercial and sport-caught fish in a way that creates conflict, confusion and discord.
Since its inception, the program has seen minimal use—in fact, only two-tenths of 1% of the Canadian TAC in 2018—not because there is no desire for more access but because there is a general understanding amongst anglers that the program is misguided and problematic on many levels. The level of accountability for the catch and use of the XRQ quota is limited to the point of being inappropriate. Loopholes for abuse abound.
The cost to the department to administer and enforce the program, particularly during periods of reduced DFO resources, has been of great interest to the SFAB, and yet requests to know what has been invested in this program and what the returns on these efforts are have not been satisfied. To explain further, the XRQ licence allows anglers who can afford to lease commercial quota to fish when the season is otherwise closed and to exceed established bag and size limits, which, to a fault, contradicts both the spirit and intent of the B.C. sport fishing regulations.
The XRQ licence does not provide additional opportunities for the recreational sector as intended. Rather, it establishes a two-tiered system that provides extra fish to wealthy individuals or opportunists. How is it appropriate that a common property resource is controlled by a small group of speculators who also have the right to lease it back to Canadians, so that they can catch more than the legal bag limit and fish outside the normal season, when those who can't afford the quota and are likely fishing for food are restricted by slot limits and closed? It is totally unfair and represents a perversion of what a public fishery based on a common property resource should rightly be. It is our strong position that the XRQ licence is an experiment that needs to end.
The two fisheries have different needs. The commercial sector needs a volume of landed fish to sell over a season. The allocation available helps to set the price commercial fishermen can charge for their catch. The recreational fishery needs an ability and opportunity to catch halibut during a predictable season that allows for planning and related spending for visiting and local anglers and the businesses that provide fishery-related goods and services to them. For the recreational fishery, the balance between certainty, stability and access to a reasonable season length is what drives its value to Canadians. When access is diminished by shortened seasons due to a lack of quota, the small coastal communities feel the pinch in a very real sense.
It is our position that the current halibut allocation policy shows a lack of appreciation and understanding of the unique needs of our sector. Instead, it seems that the solution was provided from a purely commercial context. We believe that increasing the amount of quota allocated to the recreational fishery will allow it to optimize its significant social and economic value to Canadians. These benefits are typically felt in small coastal communities adjacent to the fishery. Unfortunately, there is no simple solution. We acknowledge that the investment and needs of active commercial fishermen need to be recognized and addressed.
Finally, our sector recognizes that halibut is but one fishery. It is a concern that what has happened with halibut may have implications for other species in the future.
Thank you for taking the time to listen to us. We would welcome additional attention to the recreational fishery, not only to maximize its value to Canada but also so that the department may better understand that quota-based management is a shoe that does not fit, in our case.
[Witness spoke in Kwakwala
I'm a first nations fisher from Alert Bay. I was born December 25, 1942 and I've been fishing as a commercial fisherman since I was 13 years old.
What I have here today and what I am about to do is to share with you from my heart. Do you see any papers sitting here? No, because it's going to come from here. I'm one of the registered chiefs from my tribal group and I was asked by our chiefs, “Have you ever seen a chief in the big house talk from a paper?” Because when it comes from the paper it comes from the paper, but when a chief or a person speaks from the heart, people will understand him.
I asked my chief—because I was strapped when I was a kid for speaking my language when I was five years old and going to school. I can't speak my language fluently, and I told my uncle and he said, “[Witness spoke in Kwakwala], nobody will ever speak for you again.”
I said, “I can only speak English”, and he said, “If you speak from the heart, everybody will understand you.”
When I started fishing on the seine, you could walk on the fish. I, my father and my grandfather had the right, as first nations fishermen, to get up each morning and go anywhere to fish.
One thing I'd like to state for the record is that in 1922 my grandmother was with Allied Tribes and was in Ottawa speaking for the rights of first nations. Here I am, almost 100 years later, and I'm the president of the Native Brotherhood. If in 1922 I were doing what I am doing now, I would've been in jail, because we weren't allowed to speak in public about politics.
Here I am, I'm speaking here. The president of the Native Brotherhood said, “We will knock at the doors and knock at the doors, and one day our children will walk through the doors of government.”
Brothers and sisters, that door is open for me today and I thank all of you here for listening to me, because when I was asked to come here, I was wondering what I could do. If I can't go to the top...I've been speaking to the bottom. I'm on the herring advisory committee. I'm on the salmon advisory committee. I've been on all of these different boards, and one of the things I've seen is how the Mifflin plan came into effect, and they bought boats and they bought licences, and you know what? From the Alaskan border to the mouth of the Fraser River, they bought boats and they bought boats and they bought boats, and they called it a volunteer program. The brother here and another brother said that we talk about the companies but I've never heard anybody talk about first nations. The boats that the Canadian Fishing Company sold are all up in Alaska, and the majority of those skippers who were running their boats were first nations. They sold the jobs of the first nations people from Alaska to the Fraser River.
Our people were wiped out as if Mifflin and the Government of Canada dropped a bomb on the coastal first nations people. You bought those licences, and if a man didn't sell his licence, the company would have taken it or the bank would have taken it.
You heard the man say that we helped some of our fishermen buy a boat, but if you buy a boat for somebody, who are you going to own? You're going to own them, and that's what the company has done for us. They gave the money to us; we bought boats, and then they took them back. The majority of the same fleet is owned by the Canadian Fishing Company, Earling and a guy called Rifleman, who made all of his money in gold.
From one end of the coast to the other, we had 40 seine boats in my band. Do you know how many we have today? One.
As the president of the Native Brotherhood, I went to the Queen Charlotte Islands, what is called Haida Gwaii. As the president, I wanted to make the same trip that Alfred Adams made in 1930. I went to the Queen Charlotte Islands, I went to Prince Rupert, I went to Kitkatla and all the tribal villages all the way down to the Fraser River after Mifflin.
I feel like crying now, because when I talked to the kids.... I asked a roomful of people in Skidegate in the Queen Charlotte Islands, “Would any of you like to fish?” The kids, 14 and 15 years old, held their hands up, and they said, “I'll never be able to fish because my father sold my right to fish. He sold the boat.”
Those first nations fishermen who sold their licences sold the whole line of their family. Do you know what that is to do that? And look today. When Mifflin bought the buyback, I heard all these people say, “Oh, you Indians are doing good, we're going to do this”. Do you know that when Canadian Fishing and the BC Packers sold them licences—they bought them—sold their boats, BC Packers, the biggest company.... We had skippers who were running the boats cutting grass to try to make money to live in my community up and down the coast. They said, “We're going to help you rebuild your tribe”. No, brothers and sisters, they didn't. They haven't built that.
And you know what? When you drop that bomb on the coastal people or the first nations people, not only first nations but the other non-first nations.... Nobody has come and taken a look at what you did, the devastation of the Mifflin plan. Nobody has come to take a look. And my tears, my pain, and I'm sharing this....
I thank you for the opportunity, brothers and sisters, to be here because my people are dying from one end of the coast to the other. Drugs and alcohol are rampant in every little village. Does anybody care? I hope that I can give you my vision and my heart to be able to see where our people are. I'm talking about all the tribal groups.
You heard the brother from Canadian Fishing talking about the canneries. Well, those canneries were a majority of first nations people. All the way up and down the coast, the canneries were sold. Packers were sold. Seine boats were sold. And you know what? Here we have an organization with first nations and non-first nations. When we went to the companies, like the Canadian Fishing Company and other companies that run this.... The lady here who runs the organizations, we go to them.
You know, today I go out fishing and I don't even know what my price is going to be with the Canadian Fishing Company. “We'll pay you 30¢ for pink salmon.” Because you know in the past years we had the UFAWU, the United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union and the Native Brotherhood.... I hope I'm not speaking too long. You can cut me off if you want, but I've been all my life with that. We had organizations that fought for prices for us before you went out. Now we don't have that.
I sat in a meeting with a man called Rob Morley, from Canadian Fishing at the Native Brotherhood convention. He said, “We're going to pay you as little as we can.” And we got a letter from the Canadian Fishing Company that said, “We'll no longer pay your welfare fund”. Who have we got to go to, our people? Nobody. We have nobody to represent us. I would love to have somebody from your group to come up and down and the coast and see the decision the Government of Canada made. They were talking treaty. “Buy licences for the PICFI. It's going to help you Indians.” It hasn't helped us much. We have one seine boat that fishes in Johnstone Strait. You know what? It's only a one-day fishery.
We'll give you 20 gillnetters, a one-day fishery for the year and two days on the chums. How is that?
You tell me that you are looking after us first nations. I put my hand out to you. What can you do? I'm asking you to help us. Quotas haven't helped us. These companies might tell you that. Quotas haven't helped you. When they told me last week, we're going to have fewer herring boats go out, we don't need all of it. On the quota fishery our people, the first nations, are the victims of change. Seventy-per cent of Canadian fishers are first nations. How much of the fleet's going to be wiped out when everything goes?
Brothers and sisters, I ask you today to send somebody out to help us as a coastal people, not only first nations, but the coastal people. You are never going to bring it back. Please.
You know there was no benchmark. Mifflin came. They just came in and bought. They didn't care about how many villages and municipalities they wiped out. There wasn't an, “Okay, we're going to stop here. Alert Bay needs 10 boats. We're going to go there.” You know what? We give our own people licences but they've got to pay the money to use those licences. They get 50% of 50%.
I thank you today. I ask you from the bottom of my heart, and from my people of the first nations, help us. Please help us. That's all I can say.
[Witness spoke in Kwakwala]
Thank you to all our witnesses for being here and providing your testimony on this important study.
I wanted to give a bit of an overview. I think everyone is familiar that the committee is doing a study on the west coast fisheries license system, and then the recommendations from the report will go forward to the government. The government will then have to choose whether or not they implement any or all of the recommendations. I also have to inform you, but I'm sure you know, this is an election year, so the government has only a few months to implement these recommendations.
If I were to summarize what I've heard today from the presentations at this committee session, it's complicated. We've developed a very complicated system. It doesn't seem to be working, and we're hearing from different sectors, from different fish harvesters and representatives, that it's not representing the needs of the future.
Last week when we had DFO officials here, I asked about their vision, based on some of these problems and how complicated it is going forward. I want to start there, with Canfisco because Canfisco is a significant player in the British Columbia economy. There's no question about that.
I'm wondering, Mr. Young, if you could start. Given that it is complicated, that things are changing and your comments about the nature of a couple of decades of change, does your company have a vision of the way forward in being competitive? What will work for you and your company?
As Ken was saying, I'm not a usual member here, but I find what you're saying very interesting. I'm from Oshawa. Many of you may have heard that we're losing our plant. One of the reasons we're losing our plant is the competitiveness in the auto industry. Plants are consolidating, they're getting bigger, they're building in jurisdictions that are competitive. I see that there is a little bit of a similar thing going on in these different industries because what we're talking about are jobs of the future, jobs for the ways of life for our next generation.
I know in the sector, if you have unique Canadian regulations and different things that Canadians have to do from other companies that operate in other countries, it seems to be putting us at a competitive disadvantage. I think it was Christina who mentioned the Alaskans operating at 80%, where we're less than 40%. It's really great when we look at the science, but last time I checked, most fish don't know if they're in American waters or Canadian waters. We're trying to see what we can do as a federal government to look at this regulatory challenge because I'm worried. I'm worried about the jobs of the future and our kids. What amazes me is we're blessed to be in Canada, where we can actually look at the value chain and the value-added products going through that. My wife goes to Walmart and picks up sardines for $1.44. Somehow people get four sardines that are cooked, they're in a can that we could make in Canada, they're in plastic wrap and they make it to the store for $1.44.
I'm curious as to whether you could enlighten me if there's some really good advice you can give the Canadian government from a regulatory standpoint that would allow us to be more competitive, especially with our greatest competitor, the United States.
Christina, maybe you could go first.