Commercial fishermen stage protest

Commercial fishermen say they face bankruptcy due to federal closures

Left to right: Andy Olson, Native Fishing Association; James Lawson, United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union; Arthur Black, owner of Pacific Marl seine boat | Photo: Nelson Bennett

Commercial fishermen in B.C. are being driven to bankruptcy by salmon fishing closures, but no federal candidates are talking about a “just transition” for them on the campaign trail.

So today, commercial fishermen are staging a protest on the water to try to raise public awareness about their plight.

A flotilla of commercial fishing boats will stage a protest off Granville Island today, starting at 11 a.m., in the hope of raising public awareness of their plight, which has received little attention, despite a federal election campaign being underway.

The salmon fishery – once the bread and butter of B.C. commercial fishing sector – has been hit with closures over the past decade, but this year’s closure was particularly crippling.

Last year, Fraser River sockeye returns were the lowest on record. Returns are expected to be low again this year, so Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced closures this year that eliminated about 60% of the commercial salmon fishery.

Commercial fishermen spent tens of thousands of dollars gearing up for this season, only to be shut out, and now they are demanding compensation from the federal government.

“With these closures the federal government has done more damage to fishers than COVID-19,” said Andy Olson, executive director of the Native Fishing Association. “Fishers now not only have no opportunity to make a living, they are in debt to the government for tens of thousands of dollars.”

“Small fish boat families are facing bankruptcy and the permanent loss of their livelihood due to the sudden federal government closure of important salmon fishing grounds just days before our members were set to start fishing and without consultation or warning,” said Jim McIsaac, Pacific vice-president of the Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters’ Federation, which represents roughly 1,000 independent fishing boat operators in B.C.

“Harvesters literally spent tens of thousands of dollars getting boats ready for the salmon season and now they are left high and dry by the government’s decision to end fishing before it even started without a dime in compensation.”

DFO has offered a licence buyback program, aimed at reducing the commercial fishing fleet. It's unclear if any B.C. licence holders are taking advantage of that program.

More to come