Catch-22: Conservation, Communities and the Privatization of B.C. Fisheries
Authors: Ecotrust & Ecotrust Canada
Over the past decade, Canada's Pacific fishery has undergone fundamental changes. A combination of factors—habitat degradation, overcapacity and overcapitalization, fish stock depletions, declines in ocean productivity and depressed global fish prices—have threatened the fishing industry's viability. In response, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) introduced a sweeping set of policies to restructure and rationalize the industry. The objectives were two-fold: (1) to improve economic viability and (2) to impose stricter conservation measures including reduced bycatch, improved monitoring and the targeted protection of weak fish stocks.
In part, these changes came as a result of severe federal government restraint. In the 1995 federal budget then-Finance Minister Paul Martin committed to privatizing many of the responsibilities and services of DFO by entering "into partnerships with the fishing industry and others in the management of capacity, licensing and compliance." The objectives of cutting DFO's budget, increasing revenues through new user fees and downloading responsibilities to the fishing industry were well served by privatization.
This report, however, focuses on the impact of these policy reforms on communities and conservation. We begin by reviewing the history of federal fisheries licensing policy and the growing shift to privatized models of fisheries ownership and management. The study looks at how these policy reforms have changed the economics of fishing. Have fisheries reforms reduced or increased overcapitalization in the fishing industry? We then explore the social impacts in terms of distribution of wealth, especially to rural and Aboriginal communities. How have DFO policy reforms affected fishermen in rural communities and Aboriginal participation in fisheries?
Our research employs a novel approach, using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to investigate the spatial patterns of licence ownership, effectively mapping the socioeconomics of B.C. fisheries. The final section of the report deals with conservation. What are the long-term ecological implications of this policy reform on fish stocks? Does privatizing the ownership of fisheries resources promote conservation?
Our analysis is based on DFO's licensing and catch landings data from 1994 to 2002, a survey of the market value of fishing licences and a review of relevant academic research and published reports. Using this data and information, we address the economic, social and ecological impacts of fisheries licensing policy in B.C.
We do so in the spirit of provoking a broadbased public discussion about the future of our ocean resources and to provide governments, fishermen, First Nations, coastal communities and the public at large with both data and analysis that will contribute to a better understanding of fisheries policy. Our report is also a challenge to decision-makers to conduct thorough and comprehensive impact analysis of policy options in fisheries prior to implementation. We caution that our report is only a beginning and invite discussion, debate and further research and analysis on these issues that are critical to the survival of our ocean resources and coastal communities.
Our analysis shows that many of the major reforms of B.C. fisheries in the 1990s represented a catch-22 for communities: The solutions became, in effect, part of the problem. Far from reducing overcapitalization in fisheries, DFO policies exacerbated the problem and instead of increasing the economic viability of coastal communities, the rationalization, restructuring and ultimately privatization of B.C. fisheries marginalized Aboriginal fishermen and rural regions. Poor regions have become even poorer.
Despite the commitment stated in Canada's Oceans Strategy that coastal communities "be actively involved in the development, promotion, and implementation of sustainable oceans activities," our report reveals that quite the opposite is true. As far as commercial fisheries are concerned, coastal communities are less involved than a decade ago.
Human communities are part of the rich diversity of B.C.'s marine ecosystem. Recognizing the importance of the connection of coastal people to the sea, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea calls upon states to consider the "economic needs of coastal fishing communities" and the Food and Agriculture Organization's Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries recognizes "the important contributions of artisanal and small-scale fisheries to employment, income and food security" in fishing-dependent communities, which should receive "preferential access" to fisheries.
A thriving coastal economy and bustling rural communities, social justice and the righting of historic wrongs for First Nations, abundant fish stocks and pristine marine ecosystems—these are the tangible benchmarks by which we must measure our success to manage our ocean resources. The ocean is part of humanity's common wealth. With this in mind, we have provided in this report some practical and innovative recommendations to enhance conservation and to re-engage coastal communities in the ownership and management of our common-property ocean resources.
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