Stunning news for the Commercial Salmon Fleet
Fisheries Minister Jordan announced today that nearly 60 percent of commercial salmon fishing in the Pacific Region will remain closed for 2021; and hinted that the closures would persist until stocks of concern are rebuilt, a process she said may require “multiple generations”. In the meantime, she aims to reduce the size of the fleet with a voluntary licence buy-back and transition strategy.
This will be the sixth time since 1970 that the federal government has tried to protect the salmon fishery by reducing the size of the fleet. In 2021 dollars, over $437 million has been devoted to licence and/or vessel retirement. The largest and by far most expensive buy-backs, between 1996-2000, reduced the size of the fleet by 62 percent.
There have been plenty of treatises written on the effects of those buy-back programs but one thing is clear: neither the salmon nor the coastal communities that once thrived on the salmon fishery were saved by fleet reduction. Arguably, by removing small, owner-operated vessels from the fishing fleet, past buy-backs simply served to concentrate the licences in the relatively well-capitalized corporate fleet, which then invested in bigger, better gear to capture more of the dwindling stock. Fishing pressure was ultimately reduced by only a small fraction of the reduction in fleet size.
We are not arguing against a licence buy-back, however: it seems the only fair way to deal with salmon fishers who will not likely see another significant opening for a decade or more. Prior buy-backs relied on the assumption that those who elected to hang on to their licences would see better returns almost immediately. That prospect can’t be held out today. We look to the government to ensure that its transition strategy is sufficiently funded and robust to provide a future for fishing communities.
What we argue for is a complete rethinking of the way in which the commercial fishery is managed; and an end to the jurisdictional infighting that has allowed habitat destruction to continue to this day, despite the certain knowledge that it has pushed many populations of salmon to the brink of extinction. And when we refer to “habitat”, we’re not just talking about the wholesale destruction of spawning habitat, but also the coastal marine habitat that is so critical to early marine survival of salmon smolts. Salmon farms, industrial and agricultural effluents and foreshore developments impair the quality of the sheltered waters in which salmon begin their life at sea.
Rethinking fisheries management is a job that is best not left to those who have been doing it these past 50 years: nothing they’ve tried has worked. It’s long past time to tap the collective wisdom of First Nations and fishermen who know the fish and what they need to survive; to re-engage in habitat science and restoration work devoted to restoring a healthy marine environment. Above all, we must give up the fantasy that salmon can be managed without regard for the ecosystems in which they play such a complex role.