Sunday, August 24, 2008

2008 Fishing season finds worried participants in the Gillnet fleet

The growing uncertainty of the Pacific fishing season is proving to be an exercise in frustration for those that head out on the waters to seek out a catch.

The Gillnet fleet is the latest sector of the fishing industry to wonder what its future both immediate and long term may actually be.

The state of affairs for the Gillnet fleet was the focus of a front page story in the Daily News on August 8th. The Daily also featured an article on August 13th, with a response from Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond, who expressed his disappointment in recent DFO decisions and the impact that they are having in the community

By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Friday, August 8, 2008
Pages one and three

Commercial gillnetters on the north coast were happy to be out fishing sockeye salmon yesterday, but many fishermen are worried that this could be their last opening of the season.

At a meeting between fishing representatives and Fisheries and Oceans Canada in Prince Rupert on Tuesday it was announced that another gillnet fishery would open Thursday, but whether there will be any more this summer is still unknown.

“The Department is keeping us guessing as to whether we’ll have another fishery after this,” said Joy Thorkelson, northern representative for the United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union.

“That’s not the good news I hoped for. In a run of 2.8 million (salmon) we should have had a lot more fishing than this.”

With a smaller fleet than ever before, totaling under 250 boats, Thorkelson said the number of days that the fleet has fished this year doesn’t equate to the same number of fish as it has in previous years. The fleet fishes 16 hours at a time, so with a three-day fishery crews are only fishing a maximum of 48 hours.

”It’s also not equal to a full-day fishery you’ve got a morning set and a dark set, which are the biggest sets when you catch most of your sockeye,” said Thorkelson.

“But DFO took those away from us to protect Spring salmon and coho. But there are lots of Spring and coho, so we should be back doing those sets, but they won’t let us go back.”

The UFAWU rep said DFO has complained that the fleet aren’t catching enough sockeye sin the openings they’ve had, while at the same time demanding a smaller fleet and cutting the number of fishing hours in each opening. After only seven days of gillnet fishing in 2007, Thorkelson said that certain interest groups were already pressuring DFO for less openings.

“It was absolutely apparent today,” said Thorkelson. “DFO has consulted all along with the steelhead guides and with the steelhead conservation groups; they call themselves conservation groups but they really are just fronts for the steelhead guides. DFO has been consulting with them about the commercial fishing plan but they have not consulted the commercial fleet about the commercial fishing plan.”

At Tuesday’s meeting the UFAWU made it apparent to Fisheries and Oceans Canada that the cut to fishing time this year were clearly not so when they were discussing the commercial plan with upriver interests.

The union told DFO that fishermen should have been consulted that they were going to be cut 20-30 per cent in their total fishing time at the beginning of the season, since they believe it is all a result of politics and not fish numbers at the end of the day.

“Those cuts were made, nobody ever consulted us, and it’s not in line with the independent science review,” said Thorkelson. “The Department can’t point anywhere in the independent science review where it says that we should be fishing between 20 to 30 per cent.

All the signs are that sockeye stocks are going to stay strong just like they did in 2006. And in 2006 there wasn’t one stock that was badly impacted.

Pond blasts DFO fishing decision
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Pages one and three

The limited amount of commercial fishing this year is unjustified and having devastating impacts on working class families, according to Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond.

He also believes the federal department is wrong by refusing gillnetters more fishing days.

“The scientists on the Skeena Independent Science Review Panel (ISRP) talked about maximum sustainable yield (MSY), the largest amount that can be taken from a species stock over a long haul,” explained Pond. “But they didn’t say that’s where we should be, they just said that’s one benchmark, and they said clearly that how much below the MSY you choose to go is a policy decision. You can be well, well below MSY and still be completely fine conservationally.”

At a meeting last week between DFO and fishing interest groups, Pond said DFO was making policy decisions that are attempting to get MSY levels on Skeena tributaries.

“The scientists said that basically the harvest would have to be restricted to 30 per cent to get to MSY, and that’s what you’re seeing DFO doing,” said Pond. “But they’re saying “Hold on, you missed a step.’ There’s certainly no conservation reason to go there, and (DFO) said when we last gathered that there would be some policy framework and process around this. But it seems like (DFO) is just caving in to the most extreme arguments, and it’s costing working families in Prince Rupert tremendously to go to some theoretical numbers, which people haven’t even had a chance to agree on.”

Pond said fishermen aren’t opposed to having a conservative fishery, but what is being implemented this season is unnecessary. He points to the Wild Salmon Policy, which states that social and economic values are supposed to be considered alongside conservation with equal weight.

“It seems like the decisions are made already, and they heard only what they wanted to from the scientists,” said Pond. “The (ISRP) was good science, and gives some good tools for moving ahead. But policy decisions are being made without the right people at the table and in advance of any process.”

In 2006 DFO made the right decision to re-open the fishery. They may have taken some flak for it from some really self-serving interest groups, but in terms of looking after the resource and working men and women in British Columbia, they made the right decision.”

Pond said he would travel south to publicly oppose DFO if he thought it would make a difference. But he added the federal department seems adamant that they won’t be pressured this year.

“It’s sad, but unfortunately the voice of the commercial fishing families is a very small voice politically, so you end up with these other interests that are really good at campaigning and using the media to twist and distort the reality,” said Pond. It’s very frustrating, and I feel for the fishing families who are forced to get out if it not because they don’t like fishing, but because they can’t stand the politics.”

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