This year was tough for fishermen in northwest B.C., and while the stewards of the fishing industry hope that 2019 will bring improvements, they understand there are still many challenges to overcome.
“We’re hopeful that we won’t necessarily see the same kind of crisis-like conditions as this year, but we’re still looking at a grim situation for the coming year,” said Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) North Coast area director Colin Masson. “It might not be as bad as last year, but it’s still going to be difficult and these discussions are really important for moving forward.”
Masson presented at DFO’s annual post-season review on Dec. 6 and 7. The review is a gathering of all parties with a stake or interest in how key decisions were made regarding fish stock in the northwest over the past year.
Indigenous groups, technical committees from the Skeena Fishing Commission and commercial and recreational fishing representatives were all present at the review and had opportunities to ask questions about the 2018 season.
Masson said the sweeping fishing closures in the northwest were the primary topic of conversation over the review’s two days, and he received feedback on the topic. The feedback from these discussion will be compiled to help contribute to the planning process for 2019.
Nathan Cullen, MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley was present for the second day of the review. He said he had heard a lot of the same things from people in attendance, and felt there was a general understanding of the situation and a willingness to make the sacrifices necessary to improve it.
“We need to restore abundance,” he said. “We need to get back to a place where we’re not fighting over a couple hundred fish here and there.”
Cullen said achieving that abundance would take a long, stable and committed effort as well as providing DFO with the resources to properly manage the fisheries.
“We need in-season, real time assessment of what’s happening in the fishery so that decisions are made quicker and more accurately,” he said, adding that when this capacity is not present, costly mistakes can be made.
Cullen also said that the industry’s next generation of fishermen face more barriers than their predecessors. Citing owner-operator licences as an example, Cullen said changes could be made in policy that would help to level the playing field.
“If you own a fishing licence, you should fish the fishing licence. That’s the reality on the East Coast, but DFO doesn’t have that policy on the West Coast,” he said. “That’s the thing, returning the benefits back to the communities who are the stewards of this resource.”