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In 2018 Ecotrust Canada published a remarkable report on fisheries. The authors interviewed fish harvesters themselves and studied how fisheries are organized around the world. They found that the most successful fisheries, including the top five, have several attributes in common, including:
The owner/grantee of fishery access must be on the boat (owner-operator),
Processors/non-fishing companies cannot own licenses or quota,
The fishery does not allow the lease, trade, or sale of quota,
The fishery is managed by, or is jointly managed with, harvesters and their community,
Membership in a cooperative or fish harvester organization is required”
They found that when these criteria were met, the marine ecosystem, social network of communities, financial opportunities and good governance of the fisheries were enhanced.
The authors rated ranked the 29 different fisheries that they studied. Surprisingly, the top five included one in Canada: the Magdalen Islands Atlantic lobster fishery. This fishery was categorized as ‘Competition with effort/input controls’. Here the fishery is managed locally and communally with restrictions on gear, boat size, and the amount of time allocated for fishing. Another in the top five was the Alaskan fishery in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. This was described as: “Quotas managed by Communities”. The Japanese system, described as “Territorial Use Right Fishery” (TURF), although not in the top five, also scored well.

                        The Bad

Of all the fisheries studied, the groundfish fishery in B.C. came in the worst. (The Chinese vessel, pictured above, is not part of a "fishery" It is just plunder). This system features individual transferable quotas (ITQ): quotas for catching fish can be traded openly to the highest bidder. Over the past 40 years the price for these quotas has been driven up so high that few fishermen can afford them. Now, large corporations control most of the quota. Today 6% of quota holders control over 50% of the quota. From 2000 to 2015 fish harvesters’ income has been reduced by 42%. Communities up and down the coast have been almost completely driven out of the fisheries.
Profits go to the investors, often foreign, who have no stake in the local communities, or in the sustainability of the fish population. Chinese companies are acquiring groundfish vessels and their ITQs. One recently acquired a long-term lease on a plant in Bella Bella. Meanwhile, the boats in the harbour sit idle:
A First Nations fish harvester from the north coast says:
“It’s killed a lot of communities. You go to Bella Bella, you go to Hartley Bay, you go to Alert Bay even, you look at their fleets and ever since area selection and quotas, you’re down to — let’s say they had five hundred boats, they’re down to ten, fifteen. That’s from the quota. You can actually go into a lot of these villages, and you can see on the beach the boats that they can’t maintain. My brother’s boat sank right in the breakwater in Hartley Bay.”
The Ecotrust study noted that the only worse example of the consequences of an unregulated market is the Vancouver Housing Market: both a humorous and grim comparison.
(Just Transactions, Just Transitions, Towards Truly Sustainable Fisheries in British Columbia, Ecotrust Canada, T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation, November 21, 2018)
The salmon fishery is dominated by foreigners and by Jim Pattison’s Canfisco, which is an integrated company that owns licenses, quota and fishing vessels up and down the coast. He, who has the most money, wins. Meanwhile, salmon landings have declined from 100,000 tonnes in 1990 to about 20,000 tonnes today. Almost all of the fishermen on the coast insist that only active harvesters should have quota and allocations should be community based. Jimmy Pattison is a popular billionaire. He has played trumpet in a band for ages, and he’s donated to the Vancouver General Hospital. A whole wing is named after him. His company also has serious influence in government: his right-hand guy used to be premier of the province. Yet communities throughout the coast are suffering, and so are the fish. The situation has been described as a modern-day feudal system in which harvesters are like sharecroppers who have to pay for the right to fish. Some of the offshore money appears to be tied to money laundering. As one industry veteran told Ecotrust: “If we lose our fishing, we lose our identity”.

                            The Ugly

West Africa’s coast has long been one of the world’s richest fisheries. Traditionally, fishing has produced up to a quarter of the jobs and two-thirds of all animal protein in the region. But these days giant Asian and Russian trawlers routinely catch 250 tonnes of fish a day while ripping up the seabed. This is more than 50 local pirogues [1] would catch in a year. Local leaders are easily corrupted by the fishing companies, and traditional fishing is dying out. It is
contributing to the mass exodus and migration of people from this area and to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. Trawlers routinely under-report their catch by 50%.
A recently study by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) looked at the situation in Ghana, West Africa. There, industrial trawlers catch the staple fish that locals fishing from canoes used to catch. Then, at night, the fish are loaded onto canoes and brought to shore and sold as locally caught, for profit. This practice, known as “saiko” fishing, landed approximately 100,000 tonnes of fish in 2017 and is responsible for decimating Ghana’s fish population. Stocks may be completely wiped out by the early 2020s, according to scientists. Local fishermen have been reduced to poverty as have people in support industry onshore. More than 90% of Ghana’s trawl fleet is linked to Chinese owners who have corrupted local officials. This is an extreme, though not uncommon, example of how a fishery can be destroyed in a short time, leaving people hungry and in poverty. An unregulated market system that rewards short-term profit over all else always leads to disaster.
(Stolen at Sea: How illegal ‘saiko’ fishing is fuelling the collapse of Ghana’s fisheries, Environmental Justice Foundation, June 17, 2019)
[1] In French West Africa, pirogues refer to handcrafted banana-shaped boats used by traditional fishermen. In Madagascar, it also includes the more elaborate Austronesian lakana outrigger canoe. Pirogues are usually propelled by paddles that have one blade (as opposed to a kayak paddle, which has two).

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