LETTER: Quit blaming the commercial fishermen

Dear Editor,

The recent letter by Gary Mills from Terrace on the Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO) management of the West Coast fisheries (B.C. getting East-Coast treatment) is misinformed and disrespectful to the hundreds of men and women working in the commercial fishing industry on the North Coast. Through 10 years working as a biologist, fisheries observer and commercial fisher on both the East and West Coast, my experience has been much different.

First, casting blame solely on commercial fishing for declining fish stocks is not fair. Fish stocks are dependent on dozens of interconnected factors, such as global climate change impacting water temperature, salinity, acidification, the impacts of fish farming such as disease and sea lice, and damage to fish habitat from development.

Second, just because the Terrace Standard didn’t specifically report on limits to the commercial fishery, doesn’t mean there aren’t any.

There is a set minimum return number that always must be reached for conservation purposes before any fisheries are permitted. Only once that minimum is reached are First Nations fisheries allowed. An even higher number must be reached before recreational and commercial fisheries are permitted which varies based on the species.

Third, DFO oversees a strict third-party monitoring system in B.C. that documents every single piece of a fisherman’s catch and bycatch – multiple times. Commercial fishermen pay out of their own pockets to ensure the highest monitoring standards across all fisheries. The recreational fishery is not held to this same standard of data.

Lastly, saying that the commercial fishing industry “returns nothing to this area besides a few low paying seasonal jobs” is incorrect. Commercial fishing played a huge role in building the entire North Coast. The commercial fishing industry employs fish harvesters, processing plant workers, boat builders and provides business for marine shops and dock services. Beyond employment, commercial fishing provides other tangible and intangible values back to communities, from food to education, intergenerational transfer of knowledge to culture.

We agree on the urgent need to improve fish stocks and can both commend our MP Nathan Cullen on pressing DFO to improve, but Mr. Cullen’s message was that DFO release their return numbers needed in a timely fashion so that there is “ground-level cooperation between user groups to avoid conflicts”.

So rather than accusing commercial fishermen of being criminals or morons for doing their jobs, we should all recognize that the men and women who work on the water have the most at stake in making sure that the fisheries are managed sustainably. It’s time to move past the negativity and finger pointing and start to create a more positive atmosphere to work together.

Chelsey Ellis

Prince Rupert, B.C.

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