Fossil fuels and fish in a resource colony

Canada and British Columbia continue to act like resource colonies, supplying the world with raw resources.

It has not always been like that we once had bustling coastal and rural communities that refined natural resources, adding value and manufacturing made in British Columbia products.

So, while we chase Kinder Morgan to the bottom of the bitumen barrel, we find out that we have privatized our Pacific fisheries.

I canvassed these shocking issues in Question Period.

[Transcript]

A. Olsen:

We have the opportunity to build one of the most innovative and successful 21st-century economies of any jurisdiction in the world, yet some would have us chase Kinder Morgan to the bottom of the barrel. Aside from the risk it poses to our coastline, the Kinder Morgan pipeline does almost nothing to build sustainable, well-paying jobs in our province.

Frankly, our province would be better off addressing the challenges facing other industries, such as the fisheries industry. Once-vibrant coastal communities that hummed with activity are increasingly shuttered. The jobs have moved out of these communities. In many cases, they’ve moved right out of our country.

In 1985, the coastal fisheries employed 20,000 people in B.C. By 2015, that had fallen to 5,000. At the heart of this issue is the system of the individual transferrable quota that many in this industry have said privatized our natural resource. The quotas are now more valuable than the fish.

My question is for the Minister of Agriculture. The maritime provinces have engaged the federal government in a process to transition away from the individual transferrable quotas. When will B.C. be doing the same?

Hon. L. Popham:

Thank you to the member for the question. I know the member understands that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for maintaining and sustaining sustainable harvests on behalf of British Columbians, as well as Canada. We are glad to be hearing about the federal changes to the Fisheries Act. But we’re also doing our job, making sure that B.C. is represented at the table. We’ve been working hard at that.

As well, we sponsored the Fisheries for Communities Gathering this year. We sponsored it for $40,000. This was a place where people from all of our communities throughout our coast could get together and talk about what they want when they think about B.C. fisheries. We also sponsored a B.C. Young Fishermen’s Gathering, which brought together 50 young fishers from across the province and talked about their future in the fisheries industry.

This is an investment in our future, but it’s very, very important that we represent B.C.’s view at the federal table, and we’ve been doing that.

Mr. Speaker:

Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.

A. Olsen:

The vision of a 21st-century economy cannot just be urban-centric. We need to talk about the opportunities we’ve had in this province to create good, well-paying employment that harnesses our resources and the natural innovation of British Columbians. The future for the natural resource industry and countless communities right across our province lies in adding value, not just simply exporting raw product. We’re currently doing the opposite.

Last week at the wild salmon forum I hosted in Vancouver, I was told that a large Chinese company recently purchased over $50 million worth of these individual transferrable quotas in British Columbia. The fish are harvested here, sent to Asia for processing and packaging and then shipped back to us. The minister said that we trust DFO to manage a sustainable fishery. The people that I met with have got serious questions about that. DFO is missing in action on the west coast. We need our provincial government to be a champion for this industry locally.

My question, again, is for the Minister of Agriculture. There is an absence of federal leadership. Will this government stand up for British Columbia by facilitating an independent review of our quota licensing system?

Hon. L. Popham:

Again, thanks for the question. I know the member is passionate about this issue, and I can assure the member that so are we.

Our ministry has provided insight and specific west coast perspective to the discussion around the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act. We have to keep up the pressure from our side, and we are doing that.

The Ecotrust report that came out of the conference in January…. This report had action items specific for the federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. Some of these were specifically around how social, economic and cultural objectives are to be achieved in the Pacific region fisheries. We have to be at the table representing the communities that want strong fisheries. We’re doing that. But I think that the member also knows that as we navigate and try and work with the federal government, it’s very important to recognize that they hold most of the cards. What our job is, is to represent B.C. at that table.

A note on Individual Transferrable Quotas:

An Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) is a permit to harvest a certain number of a given species of fish each year. Fishermen are required to hold these permits and to catch no more than the number of fish allotted to them by the permit. The system was introduced in the 1990s, and as per the “transferrable” moniker, they can be transferred between fishermen and corporations. Some people inherit their ITQs from family members but those who do not are forced to lease permits from quota holders who keep raising the prices. Quotas, not fish, have become the hot commodity.

The problem with this system is that ITQs have basically privatized a natural resource: fishermen are sharecroppers who rely on big shareholders for their permits. Additionally, fishermen have to pay more than half the value of their catch to the corporation that holds the ITQ, and this makes it a lot more difficult for fishermen to sustain themselves and their families. The corporations are the ones reaping the profits and this is exemplified by the fact that the number of fishermen in B.C. has dropped from about 20,000 in 1985 to 5,000 in 2015. Generally speaking however, information about ITQs is not publicly accessible. DFO has it on lockdown; we don’t necessarily know who owns the quotas and who is investing in them. Fishermen are often required to sign non-disclosure agreements or are hesitant to publicly criticize the quota system for fear they’ll be blacklisted from lease agreements. In other words, Individual Transferable Quotas are increasing corporate stakes in B.C. fisheries at the expense of fishermen.

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