The reason I co-founded Skipper Otto with my husband Shaun, was to stand up for and support independent fishing families, and this mission has never been more important.
On Friday June 2nd, armed DFO officers visited both our Fisherman’s Wharf location in False Creek, Vancouver, as well as our cold storage facility in Surrey, BC, to seize over $20K of fish, caught on a commercial fishing trip by our longtime fisher, Doug Kostering, a member of the Alert Bay ‘Namgis First Nation.
What happened (and we are going to get technical) is that our halibut fisher, Doug Kostering, applied through his band to move a ‘Namgis Commercial Communal Licence onto his boat – just like he does every year – which is normally completed on the same day by DFO staff. (It’s worth noting that this extra step of having licence transfers confirmed by DFO is only required for Indigenous Commercial Communal Licences and not for non-Indigenous licences which can be transferred directly between parties.)
He went out fishing 4 days later in late April and completed all the normal legal requirements for fishing: he hailed in and out for his trip to the DFO contractor – Archipelago – that handles the monitoring of fishing; he ran his onboard monitoring camera while fishing; he had his catch professionally validated while being offloaded at an official offload facility in Port Hardy; and each halibut was tagged with a unique serial number that was added to the official validation paperwork. At Skipper Otto, we received and checked all validation paperwork and ensured that the paperwork travelled with the fish through transport, processing and into cold storage. In short, we jumped through all the onerous, regulatory hoops that are part of catching and buying halibut.
The problem, however, is that DFO did not actually move the ‘Namgis licence onto his boat due to delays caused by the Public Service Workers strike. Neither the DFO-contracted monitoring service, Archipelago, nor the Nation, nor Doug caught this error ahead of time. It was not until days after the delivery of the fish that the contracting service finally discovered this error when they had trouble uploading Doug’s catch-information into the DFO computer system.
When DFO alerted us to the issue on May 5th, we immediately began investigating the situation, leaving dozens of voicemails and emails for DFO staff to try to get to the bottom of what had happened, and we placed a hold on the fish in cold storage to keep it safe while awaiting a resolution. We felt hopeful for a quick and logical resolution to this issue but were uncertain since there was almost no communication from DFO in the intervening weeks despite our daily calls and emails. And then, quite suddenly, the situation escalated into a “raid” of our facilities, which was very disruptive and unsettling to our staff and cold storage partner.
I have been in regular contact with Doug and representatives of the ‘Namgis First Nation, and they are very disheartened and upset by this action and the financial ramifications for all parties. With his licence now in hand, and with great tenacity, Doug shared with us that he plans to go fishing for halibut again soon and is waiting for good weather to do so.
With a few days of reflection, I am trying to remain optimistic that there will be a fair outcome for all parties. And what I’m most grateful for is the powerful force of advocacy that Skipper Otto has become: with over 7,600 members across Canada behind us, we can stand strong together to support our independent fishers.
PS: The National Observer broke the story on June 2nd while the story was still unfolding.
Global News covered the story on June 4th, which we feel conveys the story well. One fact we do want to correct is that Doug’s full quota has not been taken away. Rather, the amount of quota for that specific fishing trip was removed from his overall quota for the year.
Similarly, CBC covered the story on June 7th. One fact we would like to correct is that there was not an additional cost of $1,000 in processed fish, rather that we paid an extra several thousand dollars to process that fish into fillets. had covered the cost of processing the fish.
P.P.S. Many of you might be wondering if there is anything you can do to support Doug, or us, as this story continues to unfold. We will be back to you with more updates soon, but for now, please know how much we appreciate your emails and continued support.
Sonia - June 8, 2023
Standing Up for Our Fishers: A Message from Sonia
Sonia - June 8, 2023