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Caught Up in Catch Shares

BC’s fishing industry is a microcosm – a proxy for some of the most important political and cultural debates currently on the national stage: Who owns Canada’s natural resources? Who should benefit from them? How should we structure our economies? Do we want a few large corporations or many smaller enterprises? What role should smaller communities play?

Compelling statistics have marked the passage of time in BC’s commercial fishing industry. Since the 1980s, the fleet has shrunk by 60%. The number of fishermen is down by 70%. Licence and vessel ownership has shifted from individuals to companies; from rural to urban areas. “Armchair fishermen” pocket as much as 75% of a fisherman’s earnings. Once-vibrant coastal communities are in steep declines. Curiously, neither advocates for fishermen nor advocates for fish are happy.

Caught Up in Catch Shares examines the role that ITQs and other catch share systems have played in BC’s commercial fisheries. Produced in partnership with the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation, it takes a look at the potential economic, social, and cultural effects that can happen when Canada’s public resources are privatized.


Explore the online interactive report


Download the report and briefing


The T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation has partnered with us on a variety of projects focusing on commercial fishermen and their roles as community anchors and environmental stewards, including last year’s values study, focusing on commercial fishermen and their roles as community economic anchors and environmental stewards.

Jim McIsaac is the Executive Director of TBuck. To him, the decision to team up with us on a report on catch shares was a clear one. “Ecotrust Canada is a tremendous organization to work with. They really get that ecological, economic, and social objectives need to be interlinked to build resilient, sustainable communities.” That need for community-driven solutions carried over to our latest report.

"Fishermen and communities have become disconnected and irrelevant in quota transactions; they should be central. We need to protect fishermen’s and coastal communities’ access to our fisheries resources."


Ecotrust Canada actively supports the development of resilient local and regional economies, focusing on the smaller places where people have lived for generations.

We believe that communities play fundamental roles as stewards of land and sea. The world has repeatedly demonstrated that economic development without support for both rural and urban communities leads to myriad social, cultural, and financial challenges.

We have the opportunity to bring better balance to our economy – to correct a drift that has been pulling Canada away from policies that could otherwise enable and revitalize communities.

I am proud to present Caught Up in Catch Shares. It represents a continuation of our work to shed light on the economic and cultural values that BC’s commercial fisheries bring to our coast. With your support, we will continue to ask tough questions and design more equitable answers.


With thanks,