At the Mount Waddington Regional District meeting on Oct. 15, Port Hardy Mayor Dennis Dugas described the importance and significant role his town plays as a base for off-loading commercially caught fish.
Dugas explained that with just four locally based facilities, Port Hardy has become the largest off-loading centre of its kind on the east coast of Vancouver Island.
Off-loading facilities pack, ice, and load in totes the fish caught by commercial fishermen that are then shipped to processors and distributors. Province-wide, the value of these community based processing facilities can, according to Des Nobels of the Coastal Community Network (CCN), be worth tens of millions of dollars.
What worries both Nobels and Dugas though, is the continued growth of corporate offshore freezer/trawler boats and the resulting decline in locally based off-loading businesses.
Nobels puts the issue in context when he says, “Over the last 20 years most of our coastal communities have lost if not all, then at least 90 per cent of their fish handling and processing capabilities. With that comes the loss of supporting infrastructure and jobs and once that is lost, you are not going to get it back.”
Keeping an intact and functional industry support facility is vital according to Nobels, who explained: “Coastal communities that support and encourage the commercial fisheries go on to generate more jobs and investment along with an expanded tax base that can help pay for all the basic services every town needs.”
The recent House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries has recommended the government look at moving toward more community-based support structures, owner/operator fishers as principals and fleet separation.
If implemented, these recommendations would mean that large companies would no longer be able to hold licences or have controlling agreements. Nobels feels, “It would allow for local fishers to maintain community based fisheries, without being hamstrung by large corporations.”
Alaska implemented a similar and successful community based fisheries program nearly 50 years ago that prioritized fisheries as a prime economic driver for coastal communities. According to Nobels, their small coastal communities are thriving and have benefited greatly from this, with capital investment up, good jobs and a stable industry.
To date, and despite the Standing Committee’s recommendations, Ottawa remains focused on corporate consolidation within the industry. “That’s the track they’ve been on for years,” explains Nobels, adding, “Everything becomes controlled or held by very few.”
Dugas is worried too and has been working with the CNN in an attempt to limit the negative impact of the decisions being made in Ottawa.
He, along with a number of other mayors, are concerned as they see this valuable community-based industry moving away from a local owner/operator model to a corporate enterprise – one with no connection to, or interest, in the community and the people who live there.
The CCN stated it recognizes that local mayors and representatives are the ones that have to take the heat and deal with the fallout and impacts of decisions made by senior governments. In Port Hardy, Dugas is seeing this more and more and states what many no doubt feel. “It has to stop. We have to be heard,” he says. “It is important to us and our voice needs to be heard.”
– Bill McQuarrie article