Good afternoon. Thanks for the opportunity to speak to you today on this issue.
My name is Bruce Turris. I'm the executive manager with the Canadian Groundfish Research and Conservation Society, which is a commercial fishing industry organization representing participants in the groundfish trawl fishery in British Columbia. It includes licence-holders, vessel owners, quota holders, crew, and processing companies.
I'm a fisheries economist by training and have been involved with the management of the commercial fishery since the early 1980s. My first activity was the implementation of an at-sea observer program in a joint venture groundfish fishery off the west coast. I was employed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for 14 years, leaving in 1998 and setting up a company called “Pacific Fisheries Management”, where I am president. The company offers consulting services, including fisheries management, policy certification, and strategic planning services, not only to commercial fishing organizations but to anglers, the MSC, and government agencies.
Today I'm here to talk to you about adjacency, owner-operator, and fleet separation policies in the B.C. commercial groundfish trawl fishery. To understand why these policies are not feasible, applicable, or workable in the B.C. groundfish trawl fishery, it's important to understand the evolution of the fishery itself.
There's been a groundfish trawl fishery off the west coast of Canada since the 1940s. Prior to extending its jurisdiction, there were Russian, Polish, Japanese, and Canadian trawlers fishing off the west coast with little or no regulation. In 1976, concurrent with the creation of an EEZ and extended jurisdiction, the phasing out of foreign fishing, and addressing concerns about excessive harvesting capacity, the government limited entry into the B.C. groundfish trawl fishery.
A total of 142 limited-entry T licence—or category T—groundfish trawl licences were established, based on historical performance and investment in the fishery, including many licences issued to vessels owned in part or entirely by processing companies such as J.S. McMillan, BC Packers, Ocean Fisheries, and the Canadian Fishing Company.
From the beginning, the groundfish trawl fishery has been a large-boat, high-volume, low-margin fishery, targeting many groundfish species throughout the coast for the entire year. It's a year-round fishery and is necessitated to be that to meet the market demands as required.
From the beginning, the groundfish trawl fishery has been a fishery where the costs associated with the vessel, gear, maintenance, crew, and fishing itself are extremely high, as they are for processing groundfish. This is one of the reasons why there's been this joint ownership and affiliation between the vessel skippers, vessel owners, and the processing companies.
Furthermore, the primary market served by the fishery is the U.S. west coast, mostly California, where they require fresh-processed filleted or headed, gutted, and tailed product on a weekly basis consistently throughout the year. To secure supply and maintain important markets, processors often invest in trawl vessels.
Since limited entry, B.C. processing companies have owned or co-owned approximately 25% of the licences, but these vessels are often the larger vessels and have represented upwards of 50% of the catch. Generally, their vessels are the most productive in the fleet and are generally co-owned with independent skippers.
Through the seventies, eighties and early nineties, groundfish trawl efforts continued to expand under a management regime that attempted to provide year-round access by increasingly restricting fishing access through declining species-specific and coast-wide trip limits or limits on the number of trips and the fishing time. TACs were based on the best available science and were often coast-wide on a species-specific basis.
This is a multi-species fishery, and it's not uncommon to catch more than a dozen different species in a single tow. Annually, the fishery catches more than 60 different TACs and 100 different commercially sold species.
Trip limits were on a species basis. As fishermen filled one limit and targeted another, they would discard species for which they'd already achieved their limit. As the limits declined throughout the year and in successive years, the amount of discarding increased dramatically, to the point where the industry was actually reporting to the government that their released quantity of fish was exceeding the landed quantity of fish.
By the early nineties, the discarding of fish had come to a critical level. As well, we had problems with misreporting of landed catch. It was misreported to avoid the reduction of trip limits and to hide the species of catch so that they weren't detected for being over any specific trip limit.
During this time, between 25% and 40% of the annual landed catch was actually being landed in U.S. ports, generally in Blaine, Bellingham, or Anacortes. About 20% or less was landed in Prince Rupert, with the majority of fish landed in the greater Vancouver area and some in Ucluelet, on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Even without the unreported discards and misreported catch, we were still exceeding the TACs based on the little information we had on reported catch. In fact, the number of TAC overages was increasing on an annual basis. The situation became quite dire in 1995 when the fishery was closed for the very first time since the 1940s. It was closed because far too many TACs had been exceeded, and international obligations had been undermined.
Based on those conservation concerns, the groundfish trawl fishery was allowed to reopen under strict conditions, and those conditions were: 100% at-sea observer coverage on all bottom trawl trips; 100% dockside monitoring of all fish landed so we would get accurate species information; management on a stock-specific basis; and, individual vessels being accountable for everything they caught while fishing. That included not only directed catch but also bycatch.
In 1997, individual vessel quotas were implemented to meet these requirements. As well, each vessel was allocated a share of the approximately 60 different TACs that were identified. The accurate accountability came from at-sea monitoring and estimates of catch by both area and species, as well as any releases at sea, and that was also followed up with comprehensive and complete dockside monitoring. All of this was carried out by government-certified contracted service providers.
The at-sea and dockside data are merged to calculate total catch weight, both retained and released, on a stock-specific basis, and then that's deducted from the vessel IVQ allocation. If a vessel has insufficient quota to cover its catch, it has to transfer fish to another vessel to cover that, or else it has to remain at port and not fish for the remainder of the year until it's deducted from the following year's allocation.
It's a very complex system. It requires time and flexibility regarding the access to movement of quota. There are about 4,000 quota transfers done annually between vessels to cover bycatch and quota overages. Fleets have to work collectively with their processors, based on market concerns, and amongst other fleets from both independent and company vessels to move quota in an efficient way so that everybody continues to fish, and they do that.
Of the 60 different species IVQs or TACs that I mentioned, 15 are coast-wide stocks and only 13 are specific to the Hecate Strait and Dixon Entrance area, which is close to Prince Rupert. Of the 63 million pounds of fish that have been caught so far this year, about two and a half million pounds—or just under 4%—have been caught in Hecate Strait and Dixon Entrance, again, the area closest to Prince Rupert. About 88% of that, 2.2 million pounds, has been landed in the Prince Rupert-Port Edward-Port Simpson area. Thirty-three per cent of that 2.2 million pounds has been processed in Port Simpson.
Again, it's a high-volume, low-margin fishery. For this reason, the bulk of the processing is centred around Ucluelet and the greater Vancouver area, where the economies of scale will allow for productive value-added processing and it's close to the markets being served in the southern west coast of the U.S. Today, more than 98% of the groundfish caught in British Columbia is landed and processed in British Columbia. Less than 2% of that goes across the border.
It's a fishery that now meets all the conservation requirements for sustainability. It's a fishery that is acknowledged by eco-certification organizations such as the MSC, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, SeaChoice, and the Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Wise program. It is also a fishery that is remaining profitable and viable because of its ability to fish coast-wide and operate at high volumes with good economies of scale.
It's a fishery where the processing companies have been involved with the co-ownership of vessels. This is by design, because you want a vessel to be operated by a skipper who has an investment in it. The co-ownership and the vertical integration that we have in the industry are essential to the economic viability of the industry, not only for the processing companies but for the vessels and the vessel operators themselves.