Who owns the ocean? Who owns the fish?

Who owns the fish? Who owns the water? Now, there’s a hot topic that is actively avoided by all levels of government, and curiously enough, seldom commented on in the media.

Who owns the fish? Who owns the water? Now, there’s a hot topic that is actively avoided by all levels of government, and curiously enough, seldom commented on in the media.

When you look at the cross-jurisdictions and conflicting ministries of our government governing, it is both convenient and expedient to have a genuine “not my department” response available to all public enquiries.

Several years ago, as a dedicated mariner on the BC coast, I tried to determine the answer to those questions. I began to see aquaculture feedlots displacing potential anchorages and commandeering local water sources. These farms initially were usually seen in conjunction with the local upland owners residences, and were experimental attempts to wrest a living out of the isolation. How could you object?

Next came bigger business, and suddenly some of the beaches and foreshore that were supposed to be in the public domain became private. Technically, beaches and foreshore are water (the higher high water is the official boundary) and available to the public. (This point is different in the US. Beaches are private.) This Canadian displacement was also in the name of local jobs. Well, I suppose beaches are land, from a mariners point of view. How could you object?

Bigger and bigger businesses wanted our pristine waters, and the salmon feedlots began appearing in greater and greater numbers. Shellfish farms moved into deeper waters. Water spaces were now invaded outright and privatized, without any associated upland ownership. More and more anchorages were displaced and more water sources were commandeered. Some residents benefitted, company profits soared. By the time we objected, it was policy.

Questions by the public were diffused with complacent platitudes and secrecy. A closed shop of government alliances made these crucial decisions without public scrutiny or adequate notification to the owners or users of BC’s waterways (us).

Practices and procedures were conflicting and unenforceable. All enquiries had the convenient, expedient, “not my department” response. We were losing our marine rights to navigation, fishing and anchoring. Why didn’t we object more?

Enter another hot topic. First Nations fishing rights. What about Second Nation fishing rights? What about Third Nation fishing rights? On the other hand, what is the point of having any fishing rights if there are no fish? Do the First Nations own the water too? I wonder if I should object?

Aquaculture disease is the final hot (lukewarm?) topic, because the watering down of the “precautionary principle”, that was the basis of the protection for the waters of Canada, has been done to favour the growth of the industry.

What happened to the environmental concerns and the navigable waters protection? The company spin, to me, has a classic delay, divide and conquer strategy. In the meantime, it is business as usual. Our combined governments have allowed the battle to rage among the scientists while the fate of the wild fish await the outcome of the debate. These decisions will determine the marine future of our grandchildren. We object strongly, but are overruled.

Can anyone tell me? Who owns the water? Who owns the fish?

Why don’t you object?

Barbara Watson,