VICTORIA, British Columbia - Canadian fish processors are fighting the renewal of a contract that allows fish processing on Polish factory ships off British Columbia.
The Canadian Hake Onshore Coalition wants to end the three-year arrangement under which foreign vessels have been allowed to process hake in Canadian waters.
Pacific hake is one of the most abundant groundfish species off the Pacific coast of Canada. The most important commercial stock migrates along the coast from the northern part of Mexico to Queen Charlotte Sound in Canada, according to Vilhjlmur Wiium of Simon Fraser University.
Offshore hake processing costs local jobs and benefits, said Dianne St. Jacques, chairwoman of the coalition and mayor of Ucluelet, a small town on the west coast of Vancouver Island that hopes for economic revival through hake processing.
"To me, it's pretty darn clear. I don't even understand why there is discussion about it," St. Jacques said.
Foreign ships do not have to meet the same federal environmental standards as onshore processors, so their operating costs are lower, she asserted.
"It is just not a level playing field," St. Jacques said. "Such foreign participation in a Canadian fishery is permitted nowhere else in Canada, neither on the Pacific nor Atlantic coasts."
The contract was defended by Alan Williams, a fisherman who said the Polish vessels provided badly needed income in lean times last year by purchasing most of the hake that was caught around the Queen Charlotte Islands, just south of Alaska's Panhandle.
"We are really grateful to them," Williams said.
He disputed the coalition's cost assessment, saying the big factory vessels carry huge operating expenses.