Thursday, August 06, 2009

Another fishermen protest

Last week we posted about a commercial fishermen protest takeover of DFO offices in Prince Rupert. Well, here they go again with a protest on July 31 reported in the Northern View newspaper.

While daily sockeye numbers at the Tyee Index peaked on July 27th at 67.37 they have since plummeted back down to the 11-14 range. Sockeye escapement is still below clearly laid out requirements. No commercial fisheries are sanctioned until the escapement and FSC thresholds are met and so far it does not look like they will be. Hence, DFO Managers follow the IFMP and keep Skeena closed for sockeye.

The commercial lobbyists in the article assert some anecdotal outside abundance of fish that could and should allow for an opening. However, in the interveing time between those statements(July 31) and the printing of the article(Aug4), the daily sockeye Index at Tyee has fallen dramatically. This does not exactly corroborate any outside abundance and reinforces DFO's correct decision to keep the fishery closed. In years past, this might not have been the case with DFO succumbing to pressure and allowong openings just to go and look for those supposed offshore abundance. A positive sign with DFO not wavering under pressure.

The article goes on to describe the various demands by the commercial fishermen, such as access to the upcoming pink fishery and failing that then some form of compensation.
Interestingly, the pink fishery was announced today for the seine fleet, but no mention of the gillnet fleet opening. The lack of access for the gillnetters is most likely because of the bycatch impacts the fleet would inflict on Skeena sockeye while fishing for pinks. It would be very surprising if DFO opened the pink fishery to gillnetters with Skeena sockeye below escapement levels.

The article continues with local MP Nathan Cullen decrying the treatment of the fishermen by DFO and the DFO Minister. Cullen demands both compensation and some form of temporary EI (Employment Insurance) for the desparate fishermen.

The most interesting aspect of the article is where Cullen describes the aging fishing fleet ( average age 50-something) and the desire of some fishermen to get out of the industry. Cullen mentions transition programs and retraining programs are required to ease the transition and downsizing of the industry into a more economically viable model.

While we would not want to kick the fishermen while they are down, we question the demand for compensation. Compensation for what exactly? Fishermen have a licensed right to fish and there is no ownership in the fish until they catch it. Just like a sportfishing license, a commercial license only gives one the opportunity to partake in the fishery. You pay your money and take your chances. We note no one compensates the sportfishery when the rivers go out or no fish show up.

Moreover, the commercial fleets have been fishing up a storm in Area 3 with 10 gillnet openings and 8 seine openings. Plus, openings south of Skeena towards Douglas Channel. So, ample opportunity has been afforded these license holders. Demanding compensation for low ocean survival of sockeye is getting pretty rich even for the commercial sector.

Here is the article written by Brooke Ward. Copyright © The Northern View newspaper

Fishermen, MP voice displeasure with DFO management
By Brooke Ward - The Northern View

Published: August 04, 2009 11:00 PM

The commercial fishermen of Prince Rupert took to the streets last Friday once again protesting the DFO`s decisions regarding the sockeye fishery, handfuls of them carrying signs of supplication: “We Want to Fish”.

“The decision now is that they will not be opening unless escapement increases,” said United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union spokesperson Joy Thorkelson.

“The DFO’s position is that there hasn’t been enough escapement and nobody here is disagreeing, but people still believe that there are more fish. Outside fisheries are showing an abundance of sockeye. What fishermen now want are assurances that if there’s a pink fishery that they will be able to engage and if the whole [season] is a failure then we need to have some kind of compensation.”

The group rallied in front of the Federal building on Friday afternoon, drawing honks of approval from passers-by and Chief of Resource Management, David Einerson from his office. Einerson attempted to speak to the crowd and answer some questions, but a sense of tension grew as some fishermen unloaded their thoughts on the Fisheries representative until he returned inside.

Adding to the fishermen’s frustration are unanswered calls to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Gail Shea, requesting a meeting by October 17.

“We’ve been asking for two weeks to meet with the Minister and today was the deadline because we needed to book tickets on a seat sale to go to her because she’s refused to come to Rupert,” explained Thorkelson.

“Instead she awarded $1 million to fish farmers and we can’t get two hours of her time...We in the northwest know that there are solutions. There are things that can be changed, but if you have a fisheries minister who doesn’t even want to meet with you then what do you do?”

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen has also expressed disdain for the Minister’s refusal to meet with North Coast residents, saying he can’t help but feel that the federal government “wants to abandon wild salmon in the northwest in general.”

“We’re banging on the Minister’s door right now and hearing the reality...She’s twice now dismissed the Northwest. But if she won’t come here then we’ll go there and at least get a fair hearing. People here are willing to work on solutions, they’re not just complaining. This is peoples’ lives and the government is treating it as a problem. We’re talking to the Minister right now in an attempt to get her to step up and show some leadership on two fronts. One is the issue right now, which is compensation and temporary employment insurance for fishermen, as well as establishing a long term vision,” he said.

“As long as decisions keep getting made in Ottawa by a distracted government our chances are slim to none of surviving. We have a lot of local knowledge and intelligence available to create a world class sustainable fishery. Solutions are available to us. We can have licenses that fish eight to nine months a year instead of in one derby. We can have fewer but better-earning boats on the water and a buy-back license program that works for the people.”

The keyword is transition, said Cullen, pointing out that the average age in the commercial fishing sector is 50-something.

“There’s a lot of folks that want out but they don’t know what to go to. Meanwhile there’s interest in the next generation who want to fish and we need to support that with strong transition programs.”

What’s not helping is the way the various sectors have been put up against one another, said Cullen.

“I don’t buy into the sporties or commercial or First Nations. That short-changes the conversation,” he said, admitting that things have gotten desperate.

“It’s not usually helpful to pit one group against the other because that lets the Federal Government off the hook.”

And while it’s gone through some tough times, Cullen says he has a “great deal of hope that the stakeholder table that has been set going to get back on its feet”.

“The impact on the economy and fishing families is severe. This is as bad as it gets,” he said.

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