I read a blog post this week and the first paragraph rang so true to me: how most media stories would lead you to believe that the fishery is on its last legs and a dying industry when the opposite is in fact the case. What really caught my interest though was that there is a movement in the United States that if new fishing licences are issued, that they be to owner operators. At a time when Canada’s commitment to owner operator fisheries seems to be seriously in question, it’s interesting to see other countries advocating and moving in that direction.
Owner operator fisheries means simply that the person who owns the boat and license is the one on the water fishing. While the official policy jargon in Canada will tell you that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans supports owner operator fisheries, the reality of policy decisions over the past two decades that I’ve been in the fishery have resulted in quite the opposite: management has moved towards individual transferable quotas (ITQ’s) which ultimately result in consolidation of access to the resource for a few (mainly) corporate interests who then hire people to fish.
So what’s the problem, right? People still have jobs fishing. Well, I guess it depends on how you look at it.
The T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation‘s report “Caught Up in Catch Shares” looks at the impact of ITQ’s on the British Columbia fishery and has the best diagram to explain the difference between an owner operator fishery and one that requires leasing quota to access the resource:
This season on “Deadliest Catch” (or maybe “The Bait”), Josh and Casey talked about how they were essentially hired hands to captain the Cornelia Marie; they no longer owned the majority share in the boat and quota. There was also a brief conversation about how it was different for young people to enter that fishery now; once the fishery went to ITQs, the price of entry skyrocketed. Crab quota had become a commodity instead of a mechanism to access the fishery.
Proponents of ITQs will talk about profitability, and vertical integration, and how many people they employ and the value of the fishery. As ITQ’s evolve, they tend to be owned as investments by people further and further from the coast. Owner operator fisheries are the economic driver in most coastal communities, with much of the money that is earned in these fisheries staying in those communities through spin-off jobs.
About a year ago I wrote with some hope about impending change in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that would see their commitment to owner operator be more than words. They were ready to take action. A year later there has been no tangible reason to think that it was more than just words on paper.
Owner operator fisheries create vibrant coastal communities with good economies. New Brunswick’s GDP grew in 2015 on the strength of manufacturing and resource industries (like fishing). Seems like something government should support with more than just empty jargon.