Press Centre

Harvester access of Pacific fisheries is broken - solutions from around the world provide direction

A lack of affordability for young people to get started. A hyper-commodification of the market, with absent lease owners. A detrimental effect on the economy and social fabric of local communities. A stronger regulatory response needed from government.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this is referencing the housing crisis in Vancouver. But there’s a crisis every bit as severe for young fish harvesters and their communities along Canada’s west coast as there is for first-time homebuyers in Vancouver, says a new report from Ecotrust Canada and the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation called “Just Transactions, Just Transitions: Towards Truly Sustainable Fisheries in British Columbia”.

For the authors of this report, sustainable fisheries should have a healthy coexistence of ecosystem function and human use. They must maintain ecological integrity while meeting the socio-economic needs of society. Decisions about how to achieve this should include a central role for fish harvesters and their communities in managing and stewarding these natural assets. Ultimately, sustainable fisheries should provide meaningful work and good livelihoods, contribute to local food security and a sustainable global food supply, and support resilient coastal economies and vibrant communities.

“Historically, fisheries have been the bedrock of many of Canada’s coastal communities, their economies and cultures. But today, BC fisheries are failing our fishing communities and fish harvesters – the system in BC is broken”, says Tasha Sutcliffe, VP at Ecotrust Canada.

The report compares the current management approach of Pacific fisheries that uses unrestricted ownership and open transferability of fishing licences and quota, with alternative management approaches from around the world.  It reveals that BC fisheries are among the worst when judged against four pillars of sustainability: ecosystem health, economic benefits, social benefits, and good governance.

“The good news is that many global fisheries are succeeding at creating truly sustainable fisheries, and we can learn from them – including looking at what’s done differently in Atlantic Canada and South East Alaska”, says Des Nobels, Northern Director at T. Buck Suzuki. The report identifies that the most successful sustainable fisheries from around the world have several attributes in common. A number are relevant to BC fisheries, such as:

The owner/grantee of fishery access must be on the boat (owner-operator)  
Processors and non-fishing companies cannot own licences or quota
The fishery is managed by, or is jointly managed with, harvesters and their community
Membership in a cooperative or fish harvester organization is required

Along with the input and expertise of fish harvesters, policy makers could adapt and enact some of these solutions to make BC fisheries among the best-managed and socially and economically beneficial in the world. A transition to more sustainable and equitable fisheries is not just desirable, say the authors, but achievable.


To read or download the report, click here.