Any expert in the West Coast fishing industry has known for years that the problem has been too many boats chasing too few fish. Last week, after 20 months of study, a federal inquiry proposed 300 solutions —the most notable, a scheme to halve the salmon and herring roe fleets over the next 10 years. The ambitious scenario, Turning the Tide, by University of British Columbia economist Peter Pearse, fairly bristles with stinging criticism of a federal fisheries department that depends on “creative ad hocery” in regulating fishermen and their catches. But Pearse offers Gaspébased Pierre De Bane, the newly named fisheries minister, and his bureaucrats a chance to redeem themselves.
In 1980, 4,707 boats landed salmon and, if Pearse’s plan is accepted, the fleet will be reduced by compensating fishermen who voluntarily turn in their licences, at a cost of $50 million over 10 years. Money for the compensation would come in part from an initial $10million grant from the federal government as well as from royalties on salmon and herring catches. Each retired licence would reduce the capacity of the fleet. Pearse further proposes that Ottawa buy up surplus fishing boats and give them to poor countries as foreign aid, or that owners sell them as pleasure boats—so long as they no longer operate as fishing boats in Canada. However, some fishermen are less than thrilled by Pearse’s recommendations. Vancouver’s John Lloyd, who now sails out of Prince Rupert because of poor catches near his home, submits: “It’s not going to do much to cut the fleet in half, since 60 per cent of the catch is taken by 20 per cent of the boats. They’re still going to be out there.”
In broader terms, Pearse warned Ottawa that it is time to stop trying to please every squeaking wheel. “It is time to take a more scientific and businesslike approach to managing the Pacific fisheries,” he wrote. “The fishing industry does not need or want paternalistic regulation; it is a technically sophisticated and potentially robust industry and it needs only a clear policy framework to enable it to flourish.” The ball, then, is now on the new minister’s deck. The many B.C. fishermen who felt that previous incumbent Roméo LeBlanc never understood West Coast problems have their fingers crossed that newcomer De Bane can make a clean sweep.
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