Blockade of the prawn fishery could ruin fishermen

I am a commercial fisherman from Cowichan Bay.

I run a commercial prawn and crab boat, and the local spot prawn fishery is incredibly important to my family and I.

I live in a modest home with my beautiful wife and amazing six-month-old son. I pay our bills, provide food, and pay our mortgage through my income which I earn during our short prawn season.

The B.C. spot prawn fishery is certified as a sustainable fishery by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Marine Stewardship Council, and a first choice in sustainable seafood by Oceanwise.

I, along with all of my fellow fishermen, pay well over $500,000 a year for biological sampling and monitoring on a daily basis while our fishery takes place.

We have all paid more than $5,000 out of pocket this year, voluntarily I might add, to install electronic monitoring systems in our vessels that allow the fisheries management (which is an independent contractor, not DFO) to see where our vessels and gear are deployed at all times.

The Stz’uminus band, like many other First Nations, have suffered a long and torrid history at the hands of European settlers in this part of the world.

I have the utmost respect, which will not change regardless of the outcome of this matter, for First Nations culture as well as their land and harvesting rights.

While I am not aware of the entirety of what has caused the “blockade” the band announced last week, the move being made by the Stz’uminus band seems to be being made quite strategically.

The “blockade” is scheduled to begin with the opening of the spot prawn fishery.

The area in question, which the Stz’uminus are trying to deny access to, is a major area in which spot prawns are harvested during the commercial fishery.

Denying access to the fishing ground is not going to help any part in this situation.

I spend hundreds of hours maintaining my boat and my fishing gear just so that I can have a successful prawn season every year. To say I depend on the prawn fishery is an understatement.

Local seafood companies, truck drivers, welders, machinists, marine repair technicians, refrigeration technicians, shipwrights, and fuel wharfs will be drastically affected by any negative action which may happen.

Many forget that the prawn fishery also supports a global economy.

While our product is sold locally to seafood markets, restaurants, and directly to the public, many of our prawns also make their way overseas.

When it all boils down to it, this is just the wrong way to deal with any issues that the Stz’uminus may have with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The action that is being proposed just isn’t reasonable.

I hope people understand the dire situation many of their friends and neighbours are in right now. Many, including myself, could possibly lose their ability to pay their mortgages and feed their families.

I beg any members of the Stz’uminus Band to please let us go fishing.

We are just simple fishermen who love the ocean, love our jobs, and want to continue to support our families.

Lance Underwood is skipper of Justin Time II and Quicksilver Girl at Cowichan Bay Seafood

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