After years of limited fishing opportunities and population declines, salmon fishermen are now facing a tough decision with a new fishing licence buyback program from the federal government. Do they sell their commercial licenses, or keep toughing it out, hoping for better days ahead?
Guy Johnston has been fishing for 46 years and while he’s managed to keep himself afloat he feels for fellow harvesters who are struggling financially due to dwindling fishing opportunities.
“Now they’re saying they want to take half that fleet away again. In terms of food security for the people of British Columbia, being able to provide salmon for communities we’re losing that ability and their answer to almost any question is well shut it down,” said Johnston.
The federal government launched a nearly $650 million program in 2021 aimed at improving pacific salmon populations. The commercial fishing licence buyback initiative announced this week is one part of that.
But the union representing fishermen says the compensation offered falls well short of the investment fishers have put into their boats and livelihoods.
It also says it’s not certain if the plan to make fishing more sustainable for those who remain after the buyback will succeed.
“You could end up with a whole bunch of inactive licenses that are being bought back and in fact, the fleet will remain the same size so it’s a pretty uncertain program that they’ve come up with a lot of holes in it,” said Kyle Louis, vice-president of UFAWU-Unifor.
The union says there’s been minimal engagement with harvesters and stakeholders throughout the process, and none of the recommendations made by active harvesters were incorporated.
“They need to come and meet with us actual active fishermen and come up with a buy-back program that has our best interests at heart,” said Louis.
In a statement Fisheries and Oceans Canada says the buybacks will be “… based on fair market value and the two most recent fishing seasons, 2020 and 2021, won’t be considered in establishing market value as they were particularly poor for harvesters.”
Johnston says unfortunately those with deep pockets will be able to weather fewer fishing opportunities and it will be the small owner-operators who bring the most benefits to the region who will by necessity have to pack up and sell.