This story is about the Native Fishing Association (NFA).  It is a story that keeps unfolding as the NFA responds to challenges and new opportunities.

The Native Brotherhood developed the NFA to support struggling fishers. Here’s a link to their site for more information about their history and how to join.  http://www.nativebrotherhood.ca

The NFA was incorporated as a not-for-profit financial lending institution under the British Columbia Societies Act in November 1985.  It was launched with  a capitalization of $10.86 million to be used to secure the place of Natives in the commercial fishing industry.  That initial capital has been turned over 3.09 times totaling $33.51 million dollars in the ensuing 35 years with the beneficial results for over 540 Native commercial fishers and their home communities.

The NFA’s immediate task at the time of incorporation was to rescue Native Fishermen from a grinding burden of debts and to do so in strict adherence to good business practices .  The second task was to provide loans for repairs, maintenance and upgrading of fishing vessels.  The third task was to assist Native fishermen acquire fishing vessels and licences.  The fourth task was to train fishermen in financial management.  The priority of theses tasks has been overtaken by the passage of time and the changing face  and the changing face of commercial fisheries but they remain a priority, albeit in a different order than prevailed on day one.

The NFA was born at a time when the spiraling load of debt met head-on with low earnings and rising.  Even some of the best of the surviving Native commercial fishermen were threatened with failure.  By 1985, debts were not being serviced.  Vessels were poorly maintained.  Gear and equipment had deteriorated.  The competitive position of much of the Native commercial fleet of seiners, trollers and gillnetters  had deteriorated.

All that changed with the birth of the NFA.  The NFA immediately sprang to the aid of Native fishermen.  A board of Directors was appointed in December 1985 and within three months had appraised the financial situation, had dealt with emergency cases, had developed a business loan process and had made loans.  The loan process established in early 1986 still guides the loan business of the NFA, subject only to refinements arising from experience.

The birth of the NFA was followed within a year or two by an economic upturn in the commercial fishery that was to last for at least a decade.

In the NFA’s start-up period 1985/89, 253 loans worth $13,243,881 were made with only $11,000 recorded in bad debts.  At the same time, 129 commercial salmon licences were converted from  ‘A’ to ‘A-I’ licence, i.e., Indian-only licences.  Of this number, 114 represented new Indian-owned fishing vessels; the balance had been Native-owned ‘A’ licences that converted to ‘A-I’.  Remarkably, not only did the NFA rescue beleaguered fishermen from  their onerous debt loads and finance vessel repairs and gear acquisition, the Association also substantially increased the number of licences  in the exclusive Native-only category.

Since its inception, the NFA has made loans to 450 fishermen from 61 Native Bands.  This statistic is noteworthy in that it illustrates that the NFA serves all Native fishermen, regardless of tribal origin.   It is a principle of the organization that the need of a fisherman comes first, the origin of the fisherman is not a final determinant; it will only come into play if there is a distribution issue based on historical usage.  Since 1990, the NFA has had to foreclose on 65 loans and write off $3.4 million in bad debts.  In some cases, assets were recovered and resold.

Lately, the NFA has been buying and leasing licences and fishing vessels to Native Fishermen.

Like all human organizations, the NFA has had its ups and downs.  Through sound management, the ups far out-weigh the downs.   Pressures generated by external events such as diminished fish stocks, low prices, high costs and unforeseen and inexplicable changes in government policies  have been monumental.  The NFA has bowed but has never broken and today stands on the threshold of even more remarkable achievement.

The NFA story is not just a story of survival. It is a story of perseverance in the face of adversity, of steadfastness in the face of uncertainty.  It is a story of determination and commitment .  It is a story that reflects the unflagging spirit of those who created and manage the NFA to this day.  The NFA has become a beacon of hope that inspires.  In Native coastal fishing communities the Native Fishing Association is a symbol that proclaims, “We can do it!”.

You can also learn more about the history of Native Fishing issues and the Native Brotherhood at http://nativevoice.ca/