BC fishing communities face disaster

BC fishing communities face disaster, says new report Harper asked to intervene to expedite U.S.-funded aid.

 

rp_IMG_1501-thumb-200x150-813.jpgUCLUELET, BC (December 21, 2009) — A dramatic change to the Pacific Salmon Treaty that cut BC catches by 50 percent has left fishermen and communities on Vancouver Island in dire straits this holiday season, says a new report titled “Communities on the Brink.” This despite $30 million (U.S.) paid by the U.S. government to compensate BC salmon trollers for forgoing catches.

As a result of the agreement, this autumn’s lucrative Chinook fishery on the West Coast of Vancouver Island was cancelled for the first time in history, leaving boats and shoreworkers penniless. Although ratified a year ago, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has yet to release any of the American funds to BC fishermen who lost more than half their income.

“We fundamentally disagreed with Ottawa selling out BC jobs and our share of salmon catches to American fishing interests,” says Kathy Scarfo, President of the West Coast Trollers Association whose members are bearing the full brunt of the cuts. “But for Ottawa bureaucrats to drag their heels on delivering financial help to our impacted fishermen and communities before Christmas is beyond unacceptable.”

About 320 captains and crewmen are being impacted by fishing closures. In “Communities on the Brink,” marine consultant Edward A. Lipsett found that the cuts to salmon catches are also hurting four marine fuel stations, a boat works and five packing plants and fish processors on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. The biggest impacts are being felt in small villages such as Winter Harbour, Zeballos and Ahousaht.

“First the Department of Fisheries and Oceans signed an agreement without doing a proper socioeconomic impact assessment and now they are delaying financial aid to people suffering from their bad decisions,” says Tony Bennett, a local government representative with the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District. “It’s just plain wrong, and very harmful to our communities.”

A rural community coalition is asking Prime Minister Stephen Harper to step in to quickly deal with the dire situation, as he has with the troubled Atlantic lobster fishery. Although the U.S. compensation isn’t due until 2010, communities are calling for Ottawa to release bridge financing to alleviate the immediate impacts of catch reductions.

In July, a regional committee on the West Coast of Vancouver Island made up of First Nations, fish buyers, local government and fishermen put forward a long-term plan on spending the $30 million in U.S. compensation. The plan proposes a responsible buy-back of troll fishing licences and other programs to increase the viability of the remaining troll fleet

Fisheries Minister Gail Shea recently wrote the committee saying “there is much work to be done” and that DFO will be “reviewing the insights and recommendations in the coming weeks.” Yet as Christmas approaches, there’s still no action from Ottawa.

 

Local fishermen and community leaders fear that DFO plans to allocate some of the U.S. compensation funds to organizations and people who are not being directly impacted by the cuts to salmon catches.

“Thirty million dollars does not reflect the full economic impact of these cuts to salmon catches, but we’ve tried to be productive about dealing with this meager compensation,” says Bill Irving, Councillor of the District of Ucluelet. “We’ve proactively offered a solution to Ottawa on how the communities want the money spent. We hope that Prime Minister Harper is listening to rural Canadians.”

Community leaders, local businesses and fishermen on the West Coast of Vancouver Island are asking local MPs to continue endorsing their urgent recommendations and press their government to take action immediately to save these vulnerable coastal villages “on the brink” by freeing up some of the U.S.-funded compensation before Christmas.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Kathy Scarfo, President West Coast Trollers Association at (250) 653-9207
or cell: (250) 537-7766
Tony Bennett, Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, at (250) 720-2700
Ed Lipsett, Lipsett Marine Consultants, at (250) 924-6565
Eric Russcher, Mayor of Ucluelet, at (250) 726-5043 or (250) 726-8100

BACKGROUND:

Estimates place the direct value of the 50 percent Canadian catch reduction at $100 million over ten years, plus another $200 million generated in economic multipliers through processing and fishing fleet activity in local communities. The amount agreed to by DFO negotiators is far less than the true value of the fishery and does not address local community impacts.

American fishermen and U.S. hydroelectric power companies drove the deal with threats of lawsuits against their own federal government prior to the actual negotiations. American power
companies and fishermen will reap the benefits from this Chinook agreement with more than $400 million a year in extra hydroelectric power and this year saw record salmon catches. Alaskan fishermen are only reducing their catch by 15 percent under this new agreement and fishermen in Northern BC are not curtailing their fishery under this agreement.

Photo: Doug Kimoto – a third generation fisherman in Ucluelet. His family was expropriated during the war. He works at the hatchery and does salmon enhancement projects. He is also a member of the integrated regional planning process (Regional Aquatic Management Board).

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