Fisheries OVERVIEWCommercial fishing in British Columbia dates back to the Fur Trade era of the early 19th century, when the Hudson Bay Company began buying Salmon from First Nations people to feed its employees and for export. The fishery expanded dramatically when salmon canning began in the early 1870’s. Gillnetting was the primary salmon fishing method, which until the 1920’s accounted for two-thirds of the dollar value of the entire industry. Halibut was of next importance followed by Herring and Cod. By the late 1990’s over 80 different species of fin fish, shellfish and aquatic plants were harvested commercially in BC. Seafood is our province's number one food export. Many coastal communities in the WCVI area rely on the industry for their livelihood; they were being seriously threatened by its decline as the 20th century ended.
"I had a great grandmother who fished. She had weaved her own net....At that time, the fish were plentiful. They didn't need long nets, only short nets to get their fish. It was all hand done." Jessie Hamilton, Elder, Hupacasath First NationBetween 1996 and 2000, the number of salmon licenses was reduced by 50% largely due to a massive buyback of fishing licenses by the federal government. Wild salmon harvests declined as well, the total allowable harvest in 1998 was the lowest in 50 years. This was in order to protect and conserve salmon stocks. Because of the reduced number of fish being landed, prices have also fallen. Less product means higher overhead for buyers and many of the long time landing stations have simply vanished.
B.C.’s share of the world market for salmon amounted to less than 4% in 1998. Competition has come in recent years from Russia, Japan, Alaska and farmed salmon. In 1998 BC’s farmed salmon industry produced 42,300 tonnes of salmon, which exceeded the wild salmon harvest for the first time. Declining yields in wild species have caused fishers to become more and more concerned about interception of Canadian salmon in U.S. fisheries, and has touched off several confrontations with the U.S. Meanwhile, the federal government policy was aimed at reducing the catch of the fleet by reducing the number of fishing vessels. Other threats to the industry during the decade included the rising temperature of the Pacific Ocean and continued habitat destruction along rivers and streams.
Six gear types are used in commercial fishing: seine, gillnet, hook and line (including longline, troll and jigging), trawl, trap and dive. The major fishing gears for Pacific salmon are seine, gillnet and troll. There are several methods for capturing herring, including seining, gillnetting and ponding. A variety of gear is employed in shellfish harvesting. Hand tools are used in the intertial zone to gather clams, oysters, mussels and goose barnacles. Traps are used to land crab and some shrimp species, especially prawns. Shrimp are also harvested by beam trawls and otter trawls. Small trawl fisheries take place for Euphausiids, or krill and for pink swimming scallops. Many shellfish species are harvested by divers, including geoducks, horse clams, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, scallops and octopus.