Understanding Values in Canada's North Pacific

Economic Values

photo by Chelsey Ellis

The wild-capture commercial fishing industry in Canada’s Pacific North Coast plays an important role in the region’s formal economy, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

In terms of landed value, PNCIMA had some of the most valuable fishing areas in the province. In 2010, fishermen in the PNCIMA region earned $167 million at the dock, which grew to $415 million in wholesale value. Those landings represented approximately 50% of BC's total landed value and nearly 10% of landed value nationwide.

Although it is not a direct finding of our work, it should be noted that the wholesale value of BC's wild-capture fisheries continues to rise. And as fish are harvested, processed, and sold, this value multiplies throughout the regional economy, supporting not only the fishermen, processors, and retailers directly, but also their suppliers and other economic sectors.

The industry also supports a full suite of far less tangible — but no less important — values for fishermen and their communities. This informal economy makes significant contributions to the social capital, well-being, and resilience of coastal communities and their economies. As such, fisheries policymakers and integrated marine planning efforts should consider the full range of benefits that commercial fisheries provide - not just dollars and cents.

Through interviews with fishermen in Prince Rupert and Lax Kw’alaams, our study highlighted the deeply rooted values surrounding a commercial fisherman’s lifestyle, the gifting and trading of seafood, and the intergenerational significance of the industry in each community. These values are intertwined and overlapping, producing a tightly-knit fishing history within each community. Commercial fishing was not solely a job for our respondents; it is an identity, a way of life, and the foundation for rich social networks.

Until now, Canadian fisheries policy has mainly been confined to two policy areas: the economic, usually measured by the landed value of a fishery, and the biological, measured by species abundance. But there is far more to commercial fishing than that - the industry provides a framework for social capital and well-being in each community.

In marine planning processes, these cultural, intangible, and non-monetary values must be considered alongside ecological and economic components to truly achieve equitable outcomes for all stakeholders. Our findings represent an important opportunity to re-frame fisheries policy in a way that leads to a more integrated, coherent policy benefitting environmental conservation, economic resilience, and social equity.