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UFAWU Responds to DFO Licence Retirement Announcement 

Yesterday, UFAWU-Unifor learned the disheartening details of the Pacific Salmon Commercial Licence Retirement Program following a Fisheries and Oceans Canada announcement.  

The announcement outlined a reverse auction system that will see harvesters competing to sell their licences for the lowest price. Harvesters have objected to a reverse auction since the buy-back was announced. DFO also declared that only $123 million of the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative’s (PSSI) $647 million budget would be allocated to cover the licence retirement program, along with a licence alternation program and gear/vessel disposal program. 

“This amount will not come close to compensating the commercial salmon fleet for their significant financial investments into licences, vessels and gear,” UFAWU-Unifor Organizer Dawn Webb said.  

“There has been minimal engagement with harvesters and stakeholders throughout this process, and none of the recommendations made by active harvesters were incorporated.”  

The program also lacks criteria to determine which licences will be purchased — meaning that both active and inactive licences can be bought through the program. As a result, inactive licence holders could impact active licence holders during the reverse bidding process.  

“Many active fishers and fishing families rely on the sale of licences and vessels for retirement. With no access to fisheries, these working harvesters and owner-operators have become increasingly desperate,” UFAWU-Unifor President James Lawson says.  

“DFO could have set criteria and prioritized working fishers, but they didn’t, and it’s the investors and inactive harvesters who will survive this. This is not a just transition.”  

DFO stated that while licences bought with funds from the Pacific Salmon Commercial Licence Retirement Program will be retired, funding is also available through the Relinquishment of Commercial Fishing Licence Eligibilities process, noting that “any applications submitted through the Pacific Salmon Commercial Licence Retirement Program may be considered for both processes.” The latter program reallocates commercial licences to First Nations fisheries, not licence retirement. 

“PSSI is touted as a plan to reduce pressure on salmon stocks while helping to ‘drive the transition to a smaller, more financially viable and sustainable fishery for remaining harvesters,’” Lawson says.  

“DFO’s ability to decide whether or not these licences are actually retired disregards this and is yet another example of a lack of transparency from DFO.” 

The announcement did not address significant investments made by harvesters such as fishing boats. Instead, the release announced the “Derelict Vessel Mitigation and Gear Disposal Program” which will offer fishers who have sold their licences through the program a way to “dispose” of their valuable fishing vessels and gear.

“We're being taken advantage of at our weakest moment. After waiting for DFO to move forward with the license buy-back since it was announced alongside the massive set of PSSI fishery closures in 2021, harvesters subsequently without viable income are desperate for financial relief and will be low-hanging fruit,” Lawson says.  

"DFO's vision for our future is still unclear, which makes it very difficult for harvesters to make confident decisions.” 

For more information or to schedule an interview with a spokesperson, please contact UFAWU-Unifor Communications Organizer Liam Hill-Allan at communications@ufawu.org.

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