Pawns in an Ocean of Kings
Part 1 in this 4 part series –
Some of the hardest working people in Canada, BC salmon fishers, are struggling more than ever. The future is challenging for all sectors.
BC’s independent commercial wild salmon fishers are being leveraged by a passive-aggressive, hiding-in-plain-sight group that knows how to manage regulations and win grants. The disparity causes a divide. The infighting hurts not only fishers, but also the health of wild salmon stocks in British Columbia, and ultimately seafood consumers.
Many people believe Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper is selling out wild BC salmon for Albertan oil one stream at a time. Enbridge is hard to resist for obvious reasons. The surprising part however is that Harper has experienced almost zero opposition from the wild salmon industry.
Some in the seafood industry are vocal and against the pipeline, but it’s primarily backroom chatter from commercial and sport fishers, and a few smaller processors as well. It’s mostly talk without action, except of course from First Nations who are poised to go to war. While FN leaders present viable arguments and objections, non-native fishers and smaller processors, who are almost tapped out financially and emotionally, cross their fingers hoping someone else will do the heavy lifting. The reality though is that if salmon stocks and fisheries are to be protected, everyone has to pull together through organizations like the BC Salmon Marketing Council.
Canadian governments award grant money by the boatload to wild salmon organizations like the BCSMC. The Council works in partnership with large processors, who, based on their competitive business model, have great economic incentive to manage independent fishers and smaller processors in ways that serve their purposes. It makes economic sense for large processors to own their own salmon fishing boats, which on the surface isn’t a bad thing, however, large processors, who are focused primarily on profit, pay the captains and crews working the boats little more than subsistence wages. Something has to change.
The days of proud independent BC salmon fishers owning their own boats and selling their catch to a variety of competitive processors at a fair price are vanishing.
Canadians who worry about buying free trade coffee should be more concerned about free trade wild salmon. It’s a challenge for a long list of reasons, one of which is that it is independent fishers and smaller processors who work hard to ensure wild salmon stocks remain healthy.
It’s also important to note that big processors can, and do, process FARMED salmon and other types of seafood. Consequently, they have much less to lose when wild salmon stocks become depleted. When salmon stocks become extinct, as some already have in BC, independent salmon fishers stand to lose the most because large processors simply gravitate to selling other seafood products. Refitting a salmon boat for another type of fish and trying to acquire a license is an expensive proposition for captains already in dire financial straits.