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Northwest NDP MP slams Liberal government over foreign ownership of B.C. fishing licences

Taylor Bachrach urges federal government to heed 2019 recommendations
3:16 p.m. The trawler MV Raw Spirit is docked at Berth 2 at the Port Alberni Port Authority while a log barge passes in the middle of the Alberni Inlet. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach slammed the Liberal government this week over the need to reform west coast fisheries.

The NDP Member of Parliament was met with applause over the ongoing controversy surrounding the monopolization of B.C.’s fishing industry and foreign ownership.

“Commercial fishing licences shouldn’t be treated like a private stock market controlled by big corporations,” he said.

In 2019, the Committee on Fisheries and Oceans put forward 20 recommendations to reform the way commercial fishing licences and quotas are distributed in B.C.

The aim was to address concerns of monopolization – including limiting ownership by foreign investors who may have never stepped on a fishing boat. Liberal MP Ken Hardie described the current commercial fishing system in B.C. as “a modern-day feudal system.”

Central to the discussion is the Individual Transferrable Quota System (ITQ), which is a transferable quota of fish, meaning that the owner can either fill the quota by fishing, or sell the quota to someone else.

Only Canadian citizens or permanent residents can have fishing licences, 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 leased out for $7-9/lb when the actual price of the fish was $8.25-9.50/lb. This means that owners took over 85 per cent of the total value, leaving fishermen with incredibly small profits to pay their crews, maintain their ships and buy supplies.

Also central to the issue is a declining population of salmon thanks to compounding problems such as climate change and habitat loss, according to the 2019 report State of Canadian Pacific Salmon.

Despite the 2019 recommendations, the Liberal government has not implemented a single change,” Bachrach said.

“There’s a huge opportunity here, Mr. Speaker, for people, for communities. We need the political will to get this done.”

In 2007, the Stephen Harper government reformed its Atlantic fisheries to ensure that the benefits of licences stay with the fish harvesters and the communities where they live.

Some changes enacted in 2007 include immediate inspection for vessels caught misreporting their catch and sanctions for vessel owners such as fines or suspension of licences or seizing fishing gear or the illegal catch.

Bachrach is hoping that similar changes are applied in B.C.

“The maximum value of the fish that get caught should go to the people that do the work and B.C.’s catch should be processed in B.C. communities,” he said.

READ MORE: Commercial harvesters “financially devastated” UFAWU-Unifor online survey finds

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