Good afternoon, everyone.
My name is Cynthia Bendickson, and I am the executive director at Greenways Land Trust, in Campbell River, B.C. Greenways is a small environmental charity that supports a food security network for the Strathcona Regional District.
Thank you very much for inviting me to speak to you today as part of the review. This issue is incredibly fascinating, and I am heartened to see our government taking an interest in it.
Fisheries management on the west coast touches on much of the global economic discourse that has taken place after the 2008 financial crisis on globalization, capitalism and inequality.
I first came to be aware of the socio-economic issues in our local fisheries management when I was hosting community meetings to develop a food security needs assessment for Island Health. The purpose of this assessment was to determine what assets each of our communities had in terms of enabling people's reliable access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food.
Food security has many definitions, but often included is the concept of sustainable food systems that ensure that the food we consume is produced or harvested in such a way that it can continue forever. Well-managed wild capture fisheries are an important component of sustainable food systems. They can produce a huge amount of high-quality, nutritious food indefinitely, as long as the fish and their ecosystems are protected and stewarded.
Current fisheries management on the west coast has encouraged large fishing companies at the expense of small, independent fishers. This has had a significant impact on the food security of coastal communities.
To illustrate this, I want to tell you about Tahsis, B.C. Tahsis is a remote coastal community on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It is located at the head of a mountainous inlet, and once you reach the mouth there is nothing but the Pacific Ocean between you and Japan. It is the epitome of the rugged west coast.
In its heyday, Tahsis was home to 2,500 people, a sawmill, a school and two churches. Like many of our coastal communities over the past decades, the changes in our economy have taken a toll. The sawmill closed in 2001 and most people moved on. Some people stayed, and newcomers have moved in, some attracted by low housing prices and others by the remoteness. There are artists, seniors and a few working families. Tahsis now has around 500 full-time residents and 1,500 during the summer fishing season.
There has been talk of some members of the nearby Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation coming back to live on their reserve near the community, but it is difficult for anyone to move to Tahsis because of the lack of jobs. However, the fishing is excellent and the village is trying to reinvent itself as an ecotourism destination.
Food security—particularly access to food—is difficult in Tahsis. After the closure of the Gold River grocery store three years ago, the closest grocery store is in Campbell River, which is a three-hour, 150-kilometre drive away, with half of that on gravel logging roads over steep mountain passes.
Over the past decade, the community has pulled together to figure out ways to increase its food security. There is now a thriving community garden, a local food exchange, and the school has a breakfast and lunch program supported by community volunteers. The school participates in Farm to School BC, using produce from the community garden because there are no farms in Tahsis. New this winter, a dedicated group of community volunteers started a good food box program, bringing in affordable vegetables once a month for over 35 families.
When I held my first community meeting in Tahsis, over 20 people attended, which told me immediately how important food security is to the community. We discussed many things, but the main issue that piqued my interest was the mention of the lack of local seafood. How could this be? During the summer there are dozens of sport fishing boats at the docks, and there is even a small fish processing facility in the village so that the American and European tourists can have their fish processed before it is shipped home. This community had bountiful seafood right on its doorstep, much closer than the grocery store, and it was obviously interested in providing for itself.
It is illegal to sell or barter for fish caught on a sport fishing licence. If they couldn't afford a fishing guide like the wealthy tourists, their own licence would cost less than $30. Why didn't they just go out and get some?
There are significant barriers, even with a licence being affordable. Fishing is expensive. A friend once told me that buying a boat is like standing in a cold shower and ripping up $100 bills. After five years of owning my own boat, I'd have to say he was right. On top of that, there are rods, tackle, charts, life jackets, and so on. Once you've invested in gear, the investment of time is required, which can be considerable, especially if you lack local fishing knowledge and the knowledge needed to process and prepare your catch.
Once I understood these barriers, I wondered why there were no commercial fishers in Tahsis anymore. Many community members assured me that they used to be there. Why couldn't they just buy seafood from a local commercial fisher?
It was at that point that I really went down the rabbit hole of—I'm sure you've heard this part from people who are much more knowledgeable than I am—quotas, leasing, consolidation, vertical integration, increasing capital requirements, increasing efficiency, armchair fishermen, and all of this leading to a reduction in independent fishers—fishers who are part of the communities where they fish. This reduction in independent fishers is how this all links together.
Even a small seafood company is not going to be interested in directly selling their product in Tahsis. It is a tiny community that is literally at the end of the road. However, maybe there are some fishing families in the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation who want to see more of their sons and daughters back out on the water in their traditional territory, selling locally and making a living from fishing. Maybe there's a young couple out there that wants to buy a boat, live in Tahsis, start a family and become fishers for their community.
Many small communities in Canada have farmers who make a living from selling at a farmers market or a roadside stand, so why is it that in Tahsis, which has almost no agricultural land but a bountiful ocean, fishers cannot make a living selling to their local community?
Tahsis is only one community that I have been able to illustrate in my very limited time here. My food security colleagues and I can tell you similar stories about Zeballos, Port Hardy, Tofino, Ucluelet, Sayward, and Alert Bay. The reduction in independent fishers has had a real and significant impact on the food security of these communities. Some communities are luckier. Cortes Island still has several fishers who sell locally, and Campbell River has a specialist seafood store at Fisherman's Wharf. However, with increased barriers to entry to fishing for independent fishers and the greying of the fleet, it is only a matter of time before the same issues spread into these communities as well.
I urge you to make changes to fisheries management on the west coast, so that independent fishers can thrive, for the health of our coastal communities and all Canadians.