BC’s Top Ten commercial fishing grounds are richer than you think
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BC’s Top Ten commercial fishing grounds are richer than you think

August 4, 2015
BC’s Top Ten commercial fishing grounds are richer than you think

A groundbreaking new study has identified the top ten richest commercial fishing grounds in British Columbia and reveals that they are far richer than you might think.

Focused on the province’s North Coast—a vast, remote region under increasing scrutiny due to proposed tar-sands pipelines and oil-tanker routes—the study documents how $167 million in annual commercial catch (2010) is the lifeblood underpinning the social and cultural fabric of many local First Nations and rural communities.

The study shows that four of the province’s 10 richest commercial fishing grounds—southern Johnstone Strait, Milbanke Sound on the Central Coast and two areas off Haida Gwaii—are located in North Coast region, which produces half of the province’s total landed value of fisheries.

“The role commercial fisheries play in the formal economy is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Dr. Kerrie O’Donnell, lead author of the study. “The commercial fishing industry acts like a great connector, linking people to each other, to their communities and to their sense of place. Our study demonstrates that much of the social and cultural fabric of local communities is rooted in commercial fishing. While economists like to call these intangible values, they are very real.”

To calculate the top-ten list, researchers compiled catch data of management areas for most of the province’s commercial fisheries from 1996 to 2010. They then calculated the value of the fish harvested per hectare of ocean. Not surprisingly, the list includes small areas with rich fisheries like salmon, crab, prawn, geoduck, among others. Clayoquot Sound topped the list at almost $2,500 per hectare. 

Titled Understanding Values in Canada’s North Pacific, the report is jointly published by Ecotrust Canada and the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation, two nonprofits based in BC that frequently work with the commercial fishing sector. Researchers conducted 23 intensive interviews of fish harvesters and reviewed past socio-economic studies to identify core tangible and intangible values in small communities. The report goes above and beyond the typical analyses of income and revenues, painting a more complex picture of the province’s fisheries than ever before.

The 23 fish harvesters interviewed for the study revealed a total of 372 commercial connections with some 200 different businesses and individuals. Geographically, 57 percent of the connections were to Prince Rupert, although connections stretched as far away as Japan. And after catch leaves the dock, its value more than doubles by the time it is sold by wholesalers, creating economic ripple effects throughout communities and the province.

This rich network of commercial fishing activity serves as an intergenerational bond in local cultures and traditions. Each fish harvester in the study gifted or traded seafood with an average of 100 people – some exchanging seafood with more than 1,000 friends and family members. During interviews, fish harvesters talked at length about the key role played by commercial vessels in a surprisingly large and complex system of gifting and trading seafood.

Known officially as the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA), the region stretches north from Campbell River to the Alaskan border, and west to the base of the continental shelf. It encompasses 102,000 square kilometres, an area the size of Iceland . The study focused on economic keystone species including salmon, crab, halibut, sablefish and geoduck.

The purpose of the study was to develop a framework for evaluating the tangible monetary and intangible social and cultural value of commercial fisheries. The framework and analysis were undertaken to inform stakeholders and government decision-makers involved in marine-use planning and consultations regarding the Northern Gateway project to connect Asia Pacific to the Alberta tar sands via oil tankers and pipelines.