I’m bursting with hope and optimism following the Fisheries for Communities Gathering this past month in Victoria, and I couldn’t resist sharing my excitement with all of you (the Skipper Otto community). When Canadian politicians come together with thoughtful, cross-party support for a grassroots issue that helps independent fishing families – it should be celebrated!
On Feb 22-23, I gathered together with Indigenous and non-Indigenous harvesters, researchers, NGOs, businesses, politicians, and senior bureaucrats for the Gathering of the Fisheries for Communities in Victoria. One of the most powerful experiences of the Gathering came at the end of Day 2 when I moderated a cross-party panel with MPs and FOPO members: Mel Arnold, Ken Hardie, and Lisa Marie Barron. Currently in BC, unlike almost anywhere else in North America, commercial fishing licenses can be owned by outside investors as opposed to active harvesters. This means that licenses and quotas in BC are bought and sold like investment tools, driving up the cost to fish and pushing out small-scale independent harvesters. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (FOPO) report in 2019 recommended changes but these have yet to be acted upon.
So when this panel of FOPO MP’s met with me before the room of attendees, we were thrilled to hear them all express their unanimous support for a made-in-BC Owner Operator and Fleet Separation policy that will ensure the value of our fisheries benefits our fishing communities. They suggested that political pressure is what will help with driving this work onto government agendas but that the government is in favour of change. This gives us plenty of reason to be optimistic that we WILL be able to reverse decades of unjust policy in the Pacific Region that has decimated our coastal communities.
Not only did these MP’s bring their energy to a really engaging, purpose-driven, and constructive panel on day 2, but they also attended the full 2-day conference leading up to it, actively and respectfully listening and engaging in break-out sessions and roundtable discussions with harvesters. That’s not always the case – MPs and Ministers often rush into the room, read some prepared remarks, and disappear without engaging with the conference attendees at all. But these three MPs took notes throughout the Gathering on what they heard, and shared their reflections and their recommendations for us as a network on how to continue to make progress.
But an even greater cause for hope was the process itself. During this session, I shared with the panelists and the audience how heart-warming it felt to witness this powerful example of democracy in action. THIS is what a functioning government looks like: a diverse group of community members gathered around a shared vision for a better way and supported by government representatives across parties, listening respectfully, engaging thoughtfully, and echoing back what they heard. Not bickering or campaigning or grandstanding — instead they presented unified support and technical assistance on how to bring about the change that citizens and stakeholders want to see.
And so we forge onward! We have unanimous support from a diverse group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous harvesters, associations, and networks across the province supported by cross-party and multi-level governmental political will. We are between election cycles and there is a constructive spirit of cross-party collaboration. All we need now is for Joyce Murray, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard to formally commit to a timeline for implementing made-in-BC Owner Operator and Fleet Separation policies and an equitable process for doing so. As a next step, our network created this petition to ask Minister Murray to “immediately ban any further transfer of Canadian commercial fishing licenses and quotas to foreign ownership or foreign beneficial interest.” The petition needs 500 signatures to be brought to the House of Commons and, thanks in part to so many of you, this petition received over 1500 signatures in its first week! The petition is open for signatures until March 22, 2023 and every signature counts, so please, if you haven’t already done so, take a quick moment to sign it here. Minister Murray has shown her determination and resilience to protect BC’s fishing communities in her strong fight to remove open pen salmon farms from BC waters. And I have great confidence that she is paying attention to us at Fisheries for Communities and that we’re on the verge of turning the corner in our fight for just fisheries policy in BC!
Thank you for your support,
Sonia & Shaun and the Skipper Otto Team
More Background info:
Fisheries for Communities is a network advocating for just policy reform to ensure the many values of BC fisheries flow to the people on the water, on the dock, and in adjacent communities. I’ve been involved since its early days in 2017 when harvesters with support of our friends at Ecotrust, T. Buck Suzuki, and UFAWU began advocating for fisheries policy reform in the Pacific Region. That work led to hours of hearings in the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (FOPO) who published their report in 2019, West Coast Fisheries: Sharing Risks and Benefits. We were thrilled with the FOPO’s 20 recommendations and were hopeful about their implementation.
In the intervening years, we’ve been working hard presenting at roundtables and meetings with MPs, MLAs, past Fisheries ministers, and DFO staffers on the issues, why they matter to harvesters and fishing communities, and why it’s urgent that they implement the recommendations. Currently the issues remain unresolved and we urgently need to push for the implementation of the recommendations – but some progress has been made!
This 4th Gathering of the Fisheries for Communities network was a powerful opportunity to come together. United around our shared vision, we heard updates on progress and inspiration from other regions around North America and Europe where more equitable policies are already in place. We also made plans for next steps to bring about the change we so desperately need to see if we are able to protect what remains of our small-scale, community-based fisheries in BC.
The Gathering had broad political representation from the province of BC including Nathan Cullen, BC’s Minister of Water, Land, and Resource Stewardship and Minister Responsible for Fisheries; Kelly Greene, MLA for Richmond Steveston, and Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries; The Honourable Corky Evans, former Provincial Fisheries Minister. Our three major federal parties were also well represented with MPs and FOPO members MPs Mel Arnold, MP North Okanagan / Shuswap and Fisheries Critic; Ken Hardie, MP Fleetwood Port Kells; and Lisa Marie Barron, MP Nanaimo Ladysmith Shadow Minister for Fisheries. We were also delighted to see Neil Davis, Regional Director, Fisheries Management Branch at DFO, in attendance as this was the first time a senior staffer from DFO Pacific Region accepted our invitation to attend and share their progress on the 20 recommendations.
Sonia - March 14, 2023
Hope and optimism following the Fisheries for Communities Gathering
Sonia - March 14, 2023