Northwest NDP MP slams Liberal government over foreign ownership of BC fishing licences

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bacharach 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 BC’s fishing industry and foreign ownership.

“Commercial fishing licenses 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 licenses and quotas are distributed in BC

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 BC 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 salmon population thanks to compounding problems such as climate change and habitat loss, according to the 2019 State of Canadian Pacific Salmon report.

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 licenses 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, seizing fishing gear or the illegal catch.

Bachrach is hoping that similar changes are applied in BC

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