Local troller Doug Kimoto fears that, without help from Ottawa, the West Coast’s fishing industry could be in peril. (Westerly File Photo)

West Coast fishers see empty seas, demand Pacific Salmon Treaty funding

“Right now, if this continues, I think most fishermen will be bankrupt in a couple of years.”

After seeing their Chinook catch cut in half this season, local fishers are demanding support from the federal government.

The West Coast Trollers Association says Ottawa is sitting on $17 million leftover from 2009’s Pacific Salmon Treaty renewal with the United States government that saw Canada agree to decrease its annual Pacific salmon catch in exchange for $30 million from the U.S. That funding was initially used to buy licences from fishers willing to retire, but the rest is sitting idle.

“Ottawa initially used $13 million of the U.S. compensation to buy out Canadian salmon trollers and has so far stalled the remaining $17 million in emergency relief to fishing communities,” the Association stated through a media release last week.

“Communities, such as Tofino and Ucluelet, hard hit by these drastic catch reductions are now calling on federal Fisheries Minister Dominque LeBlanc to release $17 million to compensate communities damaged by [former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen] Harper’s unfair deal.”

Doug Kimoto has been fishing out of Ucluelet since 1963 and told the Westerly News local fishers need help now.

“This year, we just found out that our total allowable catch for Area G is 26,200 Chinook. Last year, Area G’s catch was 46,700,” Kimoto said estimating that decrease would equate to a roughly $2 million economic loss.

“The impact is all here, in communities like Zeballos, Tofino, Ucluelet, Ahousaht, Port Alberni and Bamfield. All these communities have fishermen and when the fishermen don’t make money, it’s less money to spend in the communities…Right now, if this continues, I think most fishermen will be bankrupt in a couple of years.”

Kimoto wants to see the remaining Salmon Treaty funds released to the West Coast where it would be invested locally to help the fishers most affected by the Treaty’s catch reductions.

“I’m personally appealing to Minister Leblanc’s sense of fairness and social justice. I’m having my livelihood taken away without compensation,” he said. “Minister Leblanc can’t undo Harper’s bad deal, but he can provide us with emergency relief and hope for the future.”

Ucluelet mayor Dianne St. Jacques said such a move would fit well within the intent of the Treaty.

“We would use the money to set up our own community based Pacific Salmon Fisheries Fund to help our local fishing industry survive this short-term reduction and build a prosperous future,” she said. “They’re being treated unfairly. There is money available that needs to be given to the communities so we can support our fishermen.”

Electoral Area C director Tony Bennet said local leaders have been petitioning the federal government to release the funds, but their calls have gone unanswered.

“The Trudeau government talks about supporting the middle class, but they are allowing our hard working fishermen to be driven into bankruptcy by an unfair deal,” Bennet said. “We have even proposed a community based solution to them.”

Tofino mayor Josie Osborne said releasing the funds to West Coast fishers is “a simple question of fairness.”

“Our communities and fishermen believe that conservation comes first,” she said. “However, if there is compensation for disproportionately reducing Canadian salmon catches, then Ottawa has an obligation to help those fishermen and communities being unfairly hurt by the salmon catch reductions.”

Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns cited the funding hold-up as an example of the federal government overlooking the West Coast’s needs and assured he would lobby strongly on behalf of local trollers.

“Right now, you’d think it would be the most important and critical time to release those funds given that it’s going to be a really dismal fishing season which could decimate a lot of the fishers that are most affected,” he said.

“We have to be about a hundred times as loud on an issue to get the attention we need than our Eastern counterparts. It’s unacceptable. This government promised that they would be listening to British Columbians and to people from coastal B.C. and they keep failing to hear our message. We have to use every tool possible to make sure that we’re heard.”

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