The crew of a fishing boat watch the dock as they pull out

Indigenous commercial fishers in Prince Rupert face late start from delayed licences

Editors note: More than 40 fishermen operated out of Cortes Island in the 1970’s. Mike Manson remembers the years when there were usually several fishing boats trolling within sight of his home. Now there are one or two boats and neither of them fish in our waters – See Four Decades of Gillnetting on Cortes Island.

By Kaitlyn Bailey,  Prince Rupert Northern View, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Northern Native Fishing Corporation (NNFC) fishers lost five salmon harvest days after there was a delay from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in issuing their licences, Mabel Mazurek, general manager at NNFC, said on July 26.

The missed days on the river cost the fisherman thousands of dollars of income and caused them a lot of added stress, Mazurek said.

NNFC leases commercial salmon gillnet licences to Indigenous fishermen each year through party-based permits. This means the licences aren’t attached to a specific vessel, and fishers can choose whether or not to get one on an annual basis.

Last year, a complete salmon closure on the Skeena meant many people did not buy licences. Then, when they went to get one this year, they faced a lag that resulted in five missed days, Mazurek said.

While the NNFC was able to acquire the party licences, they had problems getting the licences attached to the vessels through the national online system, she said.

“The DFO has a policy, if you do not licence your vessel in one year, you have to re-register. This was the issue that caused the problem — the DFO policy of re-registering the vessels, that’s what took up to 10 days.”

The NNFC and the United Fishermen & Allied Workers’ Union felt these wait times are “unacceptable,” stated the union press release on July 25.

In addition to faster licence processing times, Mazurek would have liked to see earlier notice that the river would be opening.

“Another issue that played into this is the DFO did not advise the commercial fleet of openings ahead of time… We did not know we were going to open the fishery until two days before the fish reopened, so it was madness,” she said.

“Not only for us but for all the ancillary and processes in Prince Rupert involved in the salmon fishery.”

After a late start, Mazurek also received news that the DFO will be shutting down the fishery on Aug. 5.

She stressed that if Indigenous fishermen don’t have enough income, they could lose their vessel, which provides food for their communities.

NNFC has been operating for more than 30 years with a mandate to keep the indigenous fishers in the commercial fishery.

Top image credit: Fishers for Northern Native Fishing Corporation lost five days on the water due to a delay in licence processing. A fishing vessel unloads near the ferry terminal in Prince Rupert on June 25, 2021. – Photo courtesy K-J Millar/The Northern View

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