Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Fishing Statistics Point To a Poor Season

While the sports fishers take in the festivities (and occasional hostilities) of the Great Northern Fishing Classic, the commercial sector is looking to a rather poor finish to a poor salmon season.

Shoreworkers are coming up short in employable hours to satisfy Employment Insurance officials, fishermen are not getting the kind of prices they believe they deserve for their labours and city officials are wondering what lies ahead for the winter and a possible spike in Welfare claims in the near future.

All of the factors coming together point to a perfect storm of unhappiness for those in the fishery this fall.

During the course of the discussion at City council this week the issue of jobs in the community came up. The Mayor pledged to jump on the issue of E. I. problems immediately, yet this is hardly a new issue for the northwest, perhaps getting ahead of this curve might have been more beneficial.

Coun. Tony Briglio, made a declaration that “this council is all about jobs for Prince Rupert”, which is the thing of motherhood around here. But, so far it’s been a case of a lot of talk about jobs, but not a lot of creation. Now it seems were faced with the prospect of further job reductions in a struggling industry that has had warning signs flashing for a number of years.

Might be a good time for the council to get busy on what they say they are all about.

The Daily news had a complete story on the developments in the fishery in its Wednesday edition.

By Patrick Witwicki
The Daily News
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Pages One and Three

Prince Rupert councilors are worried about the prospect of seeing a long welfare line-up come winter, especially considering the poor state of the current fishing season.

Coun. Joy Thorkelson updated council on the fishing season at this week’s council meeting, and there wasn’t a lot of good news to be spread.

“Our sockeye run has been better than what we expected,” she said. “But that’s it. We’ve had a pink failure here (on the North Coast), and to top it off, the Alaska fisheries has also had a pink failure.

“That has again pushed our fishing industry … the shoreworkers have only worked 300 hours so far, and 595 is required for those workers to collect (Employment Insurance).”

Thorkelson pointed out how those numbers are unfair to Northwest workers, because E. I. hours are calculated based on averages across a huge region that includes the entire northern area of B. C., and the Yukon – which comprises economic hotspots such as the Northeast where there is a lot of work available.

With the oil and gas fields in the Northeast – which include Fort St. John and Dawson Creek – included in those calculations, the hours needed to qualify max out at595, and it could even go up in future years, she said.

“It was 420 in the past,” she said. “It’s going to put our most senior fishermen, those who have worked for 35 years, on welfare.”

Thorkelson then asked whether council could do anything to lobby the federal government to provide some relief for those workers.

“I’m asking that council be involved in asking the federal government that they change the E. I. regulations,” she said. “And we would hope council could invite fish and shoreworkes (to a future meeting) to discuss how to bring winter work to these sectors.

“The community would benefit in the long run. We’re quite concerned… herring was a failure, and now pink.”

Mayor Herb Pond said the mayor’s office would jump on those suggestions immediately.

“The E. I. issue is real,” he said. “The method that is set up … the area is huge. But an area like ours that has been so hard-hit, it needs to be red circled.

”I don’t think council can create work programs, but we can certainly write letters to pursue that.”

Coun. Sheila Gordon-Payne pointed out that a fisheries committee had been set up at the last meeting, but Thorkelson wasn’t convinced it would be able to help the current situation.

“For example, we have 51 new machines that were supposed to make a difference this year.” said Thorkelson. “But those machines aren’t being used.”

“This community should have a concern these machines might be moved out of here. We may be losing an opportunity for work in the summer, as well as the winter,” said Thorkelson. “We were expecting three million fish, and we’re down to 300,000. It’s an absolutely disastrous situation.

Coun. Tony Briglio agreed that something has to be done.

“We have citizens here in Rupert that will be standing in a welfare line,” he said. “That needs to dealt with immediately. I fully agree that this council is all about jobs for Prince Rupert, and we need to bring these people to the table.”

Pond said that the mayor’s office will move on these issues, and try to get some answers in time for the next council meeting.

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