Fish licences for fishermen and fishing communities must be legislated and enforced.

Dear Minister LeBlanc,

I am a citizen concerned about Canada’s Pacific fisheries and coastal communities. The fishing sector should be a cornerstone in the economic and social fabric of Canada’s Pacific coast; our resources are healthy, the markets are good, and fishing is deeply rooted in our history and culture. Instead, our communities are crumbling and our fishermen are being treated as serfs. Our independent fish harvesters need protections to rebuild the backbone of the rural middle class along our coast.  

Corporate and overseas interests are snapping up access rights to our fisheries. In the last 6 months alone, tens of millions worth of licenses and quota, granting access to Canada’s public fishery resources, have been snapped up by corporate Canadian and non-Canadian interests.  Speculators are buying up fishing access to lease to processors and rent back to fish harvesters for profit, taking income directly out of their pockets and out of their communities.

We are spending billions on ocean protection and monitoring. For what? So that corporations can reap the benefits while our incomes and jobs evaporate? Policies need to be put in place to ensure fishing licenses, and the benefits they provide, are for local fishermen and fishing communities, not for speculative investors, international “stockholders”, or for seafood processors to stifle competition for our resources.

In coastal Atlantic Canada, the economic capacity and the strength of its rural middle class would not exist without the Owner Operator and Fleet Separation policies enforced in all 5 Atlantic Provinces. These policies are not only pillars of the fishing economy, they also support the social and cultural fabric of rural coastal communities in Atlantic Canada.

Similar policies are in place to the north in Alaska where a processor can be jailed for owning or controlling a fishing licence. The result: multiple processors compete for fish by providing good prices, multiple fleet services, and processing jobs in rural coastal communities. In fact, Alaskan fisheries are managed to ensure that their fish harvesters and fishing communities are the primary benefactors of their adjacent resource.

We need similar policies in Canada’s Pacific.

Instead, in Canada’s Pacific a single processor controls multiple fisheries from production through export. Independent fishermen become price takers and the social and cultural fabric of our coastal communities is eroded.  Such control stifles competition and should warrant a comprehensive investigation.

During the 2015 federal election, your party made a commitment to fishermen and fishing communities that you would ensure “fishing licenses and quotas held primarily by those who fish and their communities, and prevent them from becoming a speculative asset”. Since the election, all efforts of DFO-Pacific region are in the opposite direction. This highlights the challenge and the need for new legislation.

Your current commitment to seek legislative and regulatory protection for independent fish harvesters in the Fisheries Act is welcomed, and we reiterate how important this action is on both coasts. It is critical that fishing licenses remain in the hands of local fishermen and fishing communities - the independent fish harvester must be the backbone of fisheries across our country. Each licence in the hands of processors or speculative investors chips away not only the independence of our fleets but the futures of our communities.

Fish licenses for fishermen and fishing communities must be legislated and enforced. The economic viability of the next generation of fishermen and our coastal communities depends on it.

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