As the federal government reviews the Fisheries Act, two North Coast B.C. residents flew to Ottawa to present how they think the act should be improved.
There are eight key areas to Bill C-68 and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples is listed as number two.
John Helin, mayor of the Lax Kw’alaams Band near Prince Rupert, painted a grim picture of his Indigenous community as he spoke to the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans – how members are struggling to make a living, and his experience with fisheries enforcement officers “racially profiling” members.
“We have a fleet of 70-80 gillnetters that can’t make a living anymore fishing for salmon. We have a fish plant in my community that at its peak, employs up 100 members in the village and we’re having a lot of challenges keeping that operation going,” Helin said.
To keep the fish plant going, they’ve diversified by processing groundfish, but he said with all the other fisheries coming into the area, they’ve lost an opportunity.
“There was a herring fishery in our day in the 70s and 80s, a seine herring fishery, and it wiped out that fish. To this day, that stock doesn’t come back. So herring is a staple, not just for people, but for other fish in the sea that feed off herring. So it’s alarming to us when DFO allows one guy to go out fishing and everyone else agrees to tie up,” Helin said.
Helin said the band wants to sign a comprehensive fisheries agreement with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, but had never done so since losing a fisheries case. He said it’s resulted in members being targeted on the water.
“It got so bad where one of the fisheries enforcement guys boarded my son’s boat, he was fishing my boat, and he had his 10-year-old kid on the boat, and this guy pulls his gun on the deck of my son’s boat without provocation. That went to court and it was tossed out. That shows how we’re treated in our own traditionally territory,” he said.
“When you talk about reconciliation, consultation, they’re just empty words for us. So hopefully coming before committees like this, we can make the improvements that we want.”
Earlier in the day, third-generation fisherwoman, fisheries biologist and Prince Rupert resident Chelsey Ellis presented her suggested amendments to Bill C-68, saying more and more licenses and quota are being transferred from fishermen and away from coastal communities.
“For the few young fish harvesters trying to persevere, it’s getting harder to earn a living and find a safe, reliable and professional crew to work with,” Ellis said, adding young people are not joining the industry because they don’t see a future in it.
She called for measures to prioritize and incentivize licenses and quota for “those taking the risks and working long hard hours” to harvest Canadian seafood, and the promotion of independence of owner-operator enterprises within all commercial fisheries.
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Shannon Lough | Editor
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