Narwhal’s investigative report of BC’s bottom trawl fishery

Hands and torso of a person in orange overalls holding a book with small square photographs

Photo by Taylor Roades.

A months-long investigation by The Narwhal’s Jimmy Thomson reveals a culture of intimidation and harassment that has resulted in the vast and systematic under-reporting of B.C.’s bottom trawl fishery.

B.C.’s bottom trawl fishery involves dragging a net through the water column or along the seabed, harvesting a variety of fish that live near the bottom of the ocean, including Pacific cod, hake, rockfish and pollock.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada requires each of these ships to have observers who are to estimate bycatch on ships, take biological samples and count and assess the condition of prohibited species, which can include valuable fish like halibut, all while staying out of the way.

The observers are frequently subjected to threats and harassment, making it perilous for them to do their jobs.

Workplace abuse has led observers to under-report the adverse impacts of trawl fishing and resulted in an estimated 140 million pounds of wasted fish. Put another way, that’s $1 billion in unaccounted catch in just over two decades.

“We’re totally destroying the [fisheries] for future generations. Completely,” Jon Eis, one of the whistleblowers, tells The Narwhal.

It makes you question the reliability of claims of sustainability of these fisheries.

Misty MacDuffee, a conservation biologist at the Raincoast Conservation Foundation

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