The federal government wants to buy back and retire salmon fishing licences from B.C. commercial fishermen, saying that its goal is to preserve salmon populations in crisis.
“Voluntary licence retirement will help drive the transition to a smaller, more financially viable and sustainable fishery for remaining harvesters,” said a government statement.
But coastal fishermen aren’t necessarily thrilled.
The buyback, and the amount set aside for it, are “disheartening,” responded the United Fishermen and Allied Worker’s Union in a press release.
Union organizer Dawn Webb said the $123 million set aside for the program, including disposal of gear, “will not come close to compensating the commercial salmon fleet for their significant financial investments into licences, vessels, and gear.”
According to the union, the decision was made without enough “engagement with harvesters and stakeholders.” It expressed concern that large investors and inactive harvesters would benefit far more than actual fishermen.
Buyback part of federal Pacific Salmon plan
The plan is part of a Pacific Salmon plan launched last year to “protect and recover this iconic species – for thousands of workers in rural and coastal communities, and hundreds of First Nations communities in British Columbia and Yukon for whom salmon is central to their identity,” said the government.
“Threats like climate change, habitat degradation, pollution, land and water use, acute events like toxic spills and landslides, and fishing pressures have left many Pacific salmon populations at historically low levels,” said federal fisheries minister Joyce Murray.
Critics say money should be spent on restoring salmon populations not consolidation
The federal buyback is voluntary. It will also cover licences and disposal costs for boats that are already inactive–that’s the part that’s raising the ire of active fishermen.
“How will retiring boats that have not been fishing help the salmon survival?” asked fisheries and marine expert Alan Haig-Brown. “I am pleased that some older fishermen will get a well-deserved bit of cash. But I would worry that this is one more step toward consolidation of the fishing fleet in a single company,” Haig-Brown posted to over 40,000 followers on his West Coast Fishermen social media group.
“Spend that money on habitat restoration and you would create jobs as well as, most importantly, more salmon!” responded group member Lawrence Vea. “Absolutely ludicrous to spend this money on retiring even more boats…a healthy fishery can easily support the number of boats that still have licences.”
Plan in works to help First Nations change licences
The government says it will announce details this year of a plan to help Indigenous licence holders “shift from salmon to non-salmon commercial licences.”
According to Ottawa, the Indigenous buyback will follow previous licence retirement programs by offering “market values” for the licences.