GRAND MANAN ISLAND, NB: The Canadian Independent Fish Harvester’s Federation (CIFHF) has turned their attention to the Canadian Senate after the successful passage of Bill C-68 through the House of Commons.

Bill C-68 amends the Fisheries Act and has many key provisions, the most significant being amendments to fisheries management and decision-making processes, adding social and economic considerations, and the inclusion of independent owner operator fish harvesters.

CIFHF President Melanie Sonnenberg said the organization was formed in 2014 based on the concept of preserving and protecting owner operators in Canada’s fishery.

“That particular portion of the bill is what we’ve fought hard for, it’s why we formed,” she said. “To have that very thing included is that recognition that we so longed have needed. This keeps the fishery in the hands of the independent.”

The captain, who’s in their wheelhouse, fishing their vessel, no longer has to deal with competition with a corporate entity.

Jeffrey Landry, skipper of the Chelsea Noel II, believes it’s a good thing Bill C-68 has passed but he still airs his concerns.

“I know the industry very well, and there’s people finding ways around that bill also,” he chuckled.

The 35-year-old fisherman from Arichat has been fishing with his own license for eight years now under the company Grandpa Vernie Fisheries Ltd.

“It’s named after my grandfather who passed away in 2008, before I bought the license,” he said. “He was the one who had the drive for me to want to do this, he had faith in me, so, if his name’s on my company, I cannot fail.”

The fishing boats that we’re talking about, are individual small businesses, Sonnenberg said.

“Those small businesses contribute in a far greater way in tax base, and return to the community, involvement in communities and being able to support those communities – that’s a proven fact.”

Regulatory protections for independent fish harvesters are vital for Canadian coastal communities, she said.

“It helps keep people alive, and being able to live in that community where they’ve chosen to be. They’ve probably grown up there and lived there their whole lives and don’t want to leave.”

The new legislation will seemingly put an end to the illicit trust agreements that partner major corporations who front out their licenses to owner operators. When corporations pay someone to fish their license, the over revenue from the license doesn’t flow back, but with a true owner operator, it keeps the money in the community.

“If you have folks pretending to be owner operators under the guidance of a corporate entity, that money goes to the company and the way the money flows out to the community is much different — it isn’t as robust,” Sonnenberg said.

Instead of someone doing it for the same purposes as you, trying to make an income to support their family, corporations are taking advantages in a small market, Landry said.

“At the end of the day you have people fishing these licenses and they’re big corporations, multi-millionaires, and they’re taking away from your family’s income.”

With only 68 licenses in the area, the only way to obtain one is to purchase it from someone who already has one, Landry said.

“There will never be a new one, so whatever’s out there is what there is and if somebody wants in, they need to buy it from someone else.”

When a fish buyer comes around and hears you’re about to retire, they want your license, Landry said.

“Someone like me would definitely say no, because I’m only a young guy. They don’t even want to talk to a young guy,” he said. “But somebody who is 70-years-old, and they’re ready to retire, are trying to get the most for their licenses.”

Landry has been asked to be bought out many times by major corporations with offers of more than what he had paid for the license – but his answer always remains the same, NO!

“They say “Hey, do you want a million bucks for your license, we’ll buy you,”” he said. “Nobody’s getting it from me until I close my two eyes, and hopefully that’s going to be my son one day.”

There hasn’t been a license for sale in the area in a couple of years, but major corporations are still finding ways to infiltrate our waters, Landry said.

“Definitely, there are some in our harbour right now,” Landry said. “One license just got sold a couple weeks ago, and a young guy was the one who bought it, but he’s backed up by a fish buyer.”

This is now in the hands of the Senate and Sonnenberg hopes they realize its significance.

“The importance of this legislation becoming law is critically important to the survival of independent fishers all across Canada.”

The Senate will be reviewing Bill C-68 this summer. The CIFHF is the largest fishing organization in Canada with 29 member fishing organizations, representing a combined 10,000 independent harvesters.