Sunday, August 24, 2008

Seine boat skippers stare down fish companies

Summer is always a season full of stories on the fishery and in July one of the key stories was a dispute between the seine boat operators and the local fish processing plants.

The Daily News provided some background on the issue and filled in the details on a recent dispute between the two sides.

Fish union hails 'major victory' over quota fees
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Thursday, July 31, 2008

For the first time ever, working fishermen in British Columbia have successfully refused to pay for commercial quota, something the United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union calls "a major victory."

Despite the Skeena River opening for sockeye fishing, seine boat skippers, vessel owners and deckhands met yesterday to discuss unprecedented cuts to their fishing income.

The seine fleet was essentially upset about the way fish-processing companies, which own a majority of North Coast seine licences, were charging crews more than 50 per cent of their earnings to lease quota.

After a negotiating team made the companies aware of their unhappiness yesterday, an agreement was reached between the fleet and processors that will see their quota leasing fees done away with.

"There was no new expense for the companies, but they were passing on make-believe expenses to fishermen and cutting their wages in half," said Thorkelson.

"It's like you have a job that you don't want to work anymore, so you offer me your job. But for the right to have your job, I have to pay 50 per cent of my wages back to you. And then what would happen is I'd also have to pay you for the privilege of using your pen and your computer by giving you another 34 per cent of my income. That's what it was like for seine fishermen."
With the seine fleet tying up in the Prince Rupert harbour and holding meetings with the processing companies on a day they could have been fishing, it sent a strong message that they weren't happy with the current situation.

In 2007, Northern Seine Licence holders, the majority of whom are fish-processing companies, agreed with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to have a Individual Transferable Quota demonstration fishery in the Skeena River this year.

Thorkelson said that because companies like Canadian Fish and Ocean Fish own most of the licences, they also control most the quotas.

Thorkelson said that allows the companies to only use a small number of boats to catch the fish. With 107 North Coast seine licences and a fleet of only 31 boats, each commercial boat will be responsible for catching more than one quota per season.

"What Canadian Fish and Ocean Fish were doing was putting quotas that they already owned onto boats that were fishing up here, and then charging those crews a lease price for that quota," explained Thorkelson.

"Canadian Fish was taking 50 per cent of the quota fish that a crew caught, the value of which would go to paying that quota lease. This meant crew members were getting nothing for their work, and Canadian Fish was just paying themselves."

As an experimental fishery, Thorkelson said this season has already proven that the guys doing the work aren't going to do it for free. After a successful day of negotiating on Tuesday, the seine fleet were back out fishing yesterday.

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