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Union files petition in Ottawa to stop foreign ownership of fishing licences and quotas

UFAW-Unifor seeks a formal ending to all foreign investment, owner operator policy framework

The union representing commercial fishing industry workers has filed a petition with the House of Commons to put a formal end to further ownership or beneficial interest in Canadian licences and quotas by foreign interests.

Sponsored by Fleetwood-Port Kells Liberal MP Ken Hardie, the The United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union-Unifor (UFAWU-Unifor) petition was launched online on Feb. 22. While it already has the minimum number of 500 signatures required to table before parliament, people are able to sign the petition online until March 22.

“I think it will have a strong impact on the conversation,” said UFAWU-Unifor business agent Emily Orr, who has been described as being instrumental in the petition. “The thinking is that this decision, this type of issue really does require more than just commercial fish harvesters to look at it. There’s only a short window of time, but we feel confident we’ll gain a lot of support to show that this issue needs the urgent attention of the minister.”

According to Orr, foreign investment on the west coast has seen costs rise, and in doing so, seen the downturn from the lack of new owner-operators entering the industry.

READ MORE: Writing on the wall for West Coast fish farms, conservationists say after closures

“If you’re a young entrant or been fishing for a long time and desire to become a owner-operator, you’re in direct competition from foreign interests,” said Orr. “In the socio-economic view on a broader scale, we’re already seeing the dismantlement of the infrastructure that supports the fishing industry on our coast. Fewer and fewer fish processing sites, fewer boat repair shops.

“Coastal communities suffer from that. When fisheries are reduced and the fleet is downsized, those communities suffer that socio-economic downturn. We’d prefer to see it the opposite way. The benefits of commercial fishing should flow to those who are working to harvest the fish, and to the adjacent coastal communities. We need protections for Canadian small scale fisheries, and putting a stop to further foreign ownership is a logical place to start.”

According to the DFO’s 2019 report “West Coast Fisheries: Sharing Risks and Benefits,” the average of a Canadian fishing employee’s income rose 39 per cent in the years 2000-2015, while dropping six per cent in British Columbia. Also in 2015, the average income of a self-employed B.C. fish harvester was only equal to just over half (56 per cent) of the Canadian average.

Again, this can be attributed to rising costs for licences and the individual transferable quotas (ITQs), a transferable quota that you can trade in between individual entities.

“I’ve personally seen bids go on licences and quotas where foreign investors, corporations are well outbidding individual owner operators,” said Orr. “Then owner operators either come back to the table with a stronger bid to have a chance at that licence or quota or are forced out. The cost to go fishing increases and the viability disappears.”

Orr feels that other coastal communities that depend heavily on fisheries, such as Alaska and Atlantic Canada, can provide a framework for the future of license policy on the west coast. In 2007, The Policy for Preserving the Independence of the Inshore Fleet in Canada’s Atlantic Fisheries (PIIFCAF), which outlined a policy protecting owner operators from the muscles of foreign investment. It took seven years before it was implemented fully in 2014.

While there are some growing pains associated with that, Orr feels that BC could work out the kinks that were missed on the Atlantic Canada policy. As far as costs of licences are concerned, Orr feels that the province could take a page from the east coast, and implement ideas such as a fisheries provincial loan board, associated with the cost of buying licences.

“Currently, only B.C. and Alberta don’t have a fisheries loan board. The cost is so steep,” said Orr. “It’s a huge obstacle for folks to come into the industry.”

For more information or if you would like to sign the petition, go to

Edward Hitchins

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