DFO should abandon old policies
By Gwyn Morgan, Troy Media May 29, 2012
These are trying times for British Columbia’s rural coastal communities. The forest products sector is in decline as timber harvests fall and aging pulp mills shut down. The boom years of the other traditional coastal community mainstay, commercial fish harvesting and processing, are a distant memory.
In abandoned towns that once harboured fishing fleets, the dilapidated remains of fish canneries yield to forest undergrowth. A combination of fewer fish and longer range refrigerated boats means fishermen can now take their catch directly to market in cities to the south. Once an economic driver, the commercial fishery has become of little net economic value to the province.
Fortunately, the recreational fishery is an entirely different story. Each year, some 300,000 anglers ply B.C.’s stunningly beautiful coastal waters. Many of these sport fishers rent cars, float planes, boats, fishing equipment and employ guides; generating hundreds of millions of dollars for the provincial economy.
In place of those decaying fishing towns, high quality, well-staffed lodges have sprung up, along with hundreds of other businesses providing support services. It’s a good news story for B.C., employing thousands of workers, with even more potential. Yet, judging by the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans’s (DFO) perverse fish quota allocation policies, one would think it’s the commercial fishery that provides the higher economic value. This profoundly misguided DFO attitude is endangering the single most important job creator that B.C.’s struggling rural coastal communities have left.
The North Pacific sport fishery is anchored by two cornerstone species, salmon and halibut. A joint Canada/ U.S. Commission sets total catch limits as well as the allocation between the two countries. Annual quotas are adjusted up and down based on fish population and size data, but the general trend has been down.
The impact of these quota reductions on the important halibut sport fishery is an unfortunate example. For many years, just 12 per cent was allocated to recreational anglers. In an effort to make this small allocation last through the season, sports fishers saw their daily catch limit reduced from two to one.
But continuing quota reductions brought back the prospect of mid-season shutdowns, forcing devastating layoffs. Earlier this year, Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield announced a three per cent increase in the so-called “halibut split.” But because this grudgingly tiny increase coincides with a decrease in the Inter-national Commission’s 2012 total allowable catch, the recreational fishery faces a possible midsummer shut-down again this year. The continuation of this unfortunate state of affairs has created a windfall for lodges in Washington and Alaska, where higher catch limits reflect the sport fishery’s true economic importance.
That the increase to the recreational halibut split is completely inconsequential didn’t deter the commercial fisher lobby from charging the government with “caving in” to the recreational lobby. Yet the policy record clearly shows a long-standing DFO bias in favour of the commercial fishery.
A recent poster child for the dysfunction of DFO policies was the cancellation of the 2012 Juan de Fuca International Salmon Championship Derby. This important social and cultural event brought in a lot of tourist dollars while raising hundreds of thousands for, irony of ironies, “salmon habitat and stock enhancement.”
As one resort manager notes, helping salmon stock levels by reducing the sport catch is like “shaving an ice-berg.” The number of salmon caught by single line rod angling is minuscule compared to the massive takes by commercial fishers using multiple hook trawlers, gillnetters and purse seiners. Furthermore, commercial fishing methods cause habitat and species destruction from dragging nets and dumping dead fish overboard as so-called “bycatch.”
And the economic benefits of the sport fishery are astronomically superior. Including air/ground transportation, food services, boat rentals, fishing guides, lodge accommodation and licence fees, the economic value added for a single salmon caught can total more than $1,000, even before the added economic benefits from visiting anglers who extend their holidays sightseeing and shopping.
There’s much debate about the importance of maximizing the economic benefits of Canada’s natural resources, yet DFO’s Pacific fishery policies are having precisely the opposite result. Continuation of this dysfunctional approach will mean the loss of thousands of jobs and lead to abandonment of even more rural coastal communities. Perhaps those who have long believed that the West is just too far away from Ottawa for federal bureaucrats to know what they’re doing are absolutely correct.
Gwyn Morgan is a Canadian business leader and director of two global corporations
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