License fees remain unchanged – too bad!

So yes, it’s been a few weeks too long since I last posted a column here. Yeah, there’s been all the usual excuses about life is busy etc. etc. but the truth behind the delay is that since the third week of March I had been anticipating being able to write about a particular topic however the information required to do so didn’t materialize as expected, or at least hoped for. And in further truth it hasn’t materialized yet but I have enough of a sense of what’s going on to delay no more.

Stepping back just over a week to the first of the month, like many anglers in BC I had to renew my tidal waters license and for the twenty-second year in a row the fees remained unchanged. To the extent that any purchasers give it any thought I suspect that many if not most of the 300,000+ who will do so this season will be pleased at this – precious little has remained the same price in over two decades so what’s not to like, right?

Unfortunately after more than a decade of steady decline in fiscal resources dedicated to programs that support the marine waters recreational fishery in BC there’s an acute need to reverse this and, short of an unlikely burst of government financial generosity, the only assured way to do so is to increase the license fees. I’ve written about this situation before and, despite advisory and organizational interests in the recreational fishery almost pleading with government to apply a significant increase – with the proviso that the additional funds generated flow back to fishery programs like catch monitoring, salmon enhancement, enforcement and SFAB support – the fishery has found itself in the perverse situation wherein Ottawa seems unable or unwilling to make such a move.

One suggested strategy to get around this was to have the government provide some interim funding with the fancy title of the Recreational Vision Implementation fund
(https://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/consultation/smon/sfab-ccps/docs/rec-vision-eng.pdf), scoped out in the range of $2 – 3 million, with hope that mention of such would show up as a small line item in the latest federal budget which came out March 22nd. Despite what appeared to be agreement by DFO staff in Ottawa and all the right advocacy by recreational fishing interests here in the Pacific region, alas this proved not to be the case.

However not all is lost because the Trudeau government has directed new and additional funding to Fisheries and Oceans Canada nationally, including some headed to the Pacific region, including funds that have yet to be dedicated to specific programs. This means that the monies required to prevent recreational fisheries management from foundering completely in the short term could be at hand but, it must be said, there’s no certainty. Organizational representatives from the recreational fishery will be making one of their periodic visits to Ottawa in the near future, with their highest priority to seek some assured direction for this initiative from department and/or Treasury Board staff, aided and abetted by west coast members of parliament supportive of the fishery.

It has been said that the relatively new minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada Dominic Leblanc (himself a keen angler from New Brunswick and the son of a previous minister during the early1980’s, Romeo Leblanc) has approved the license fee increase in principle, presumably to take effect next April 1. One of the requirements of the User Fee Act passed several years ago is that any increased fees must be returned to those whose fees have been upped, in this case anglers in the Pacific region, but Treasury Board will want to have its own views considered on any new monies moving through the hands of government around the country so there could be delays yet. Mixing metaphors, considering the economic size of the fishery it’s a hell of a way to run a railroad!

And of course it’s not just recreational fisheries management that has increasingly been starved of funds over the past dozen years or more. All the core activities of DFO are in a similar state, with stock assessment funding alone barely a third of what it was a decade ago. I’m confident that should they ever be told Canadians would be dismayed to find out just how impoverished DFO really is. Compared to defense, health, education or any of the other big portfolios, with fisheries being mostly a coastal responsibility unfortunately it simply doesn’t have the political or financial heft to keep it far from the end of the line in government priorities. And, it should be said, worthy as these causes are, the department now encompasses ocean protection and Coast Guard responsibilities, each of which is in competition for departmental funding.

A dozen years ago recreational fisheries management in the Pacific region commanded its own division with a staff of half a dozen, now it’s one person with several others engaged on a less than full time basis reporting to others whose responsibilities are similarly diverse. In some circles governments tout the excellence and variety of the recreational fishery on Canada’s west coast but opportunities are becoming increasingly foregone because staff with existing resources just can’t manage with what they are given to work with, ultimately from Ottawa. Increasing the license fees is the only way out of this situation and I sure hope for the sake of the recreational fishery here I don’t have to write something similar in a year’s time.