Port Hardy—Less than a dozen people showed to hear a Department of Fisheries and Oceans representative try to sell the idea of transferable halibut quotas.
No one in the audience was buying it.
“This is the second year you’ve been trying to do this,” one unidentified fisherman in the group told Neil Davis, of the DFO, who hosted the April 18 information meeting.
“It doesn’t work and you should scrap the whole program.”
The DFO has already been to Ucluelet, Campbell River, Port Hardy and Victoria and will be in Queen Charlotte later this month and in Prince Rupert in early May to convince those who make a living on the water to buy into the individual transferable quota experiment that began last year.
This, according to the DFO website, is how it works: In addition to the regular tidal water sport fishing licence, recreational harvesters can obtain an experimental licence, on a voluntary basis, that will allow the licence holder to lease halibut quota from commercial harvesters, thereby giving them certainty for business planning purposes.
The additional quota associated with the experimental licence will allow individual recreational harvesters to fish beyond the current limits of a standard recreational license —a daily limit of one and possession limit of two — up to the amount of additional quota acquired on the experimental licence. The experimental fishery will commence on April 1, 2012 and will be available until December 31, 2012.
What this does, argued Davis, is allow recreational and other anglers to fish when the season for them closes, usually much earlier than it does for the commercial fishers.
Mike Kelly has made his living running a Port Hardy charter business for about a decade and he said he would never buy a quota from a commercial licence holder.
“The recreational fishing sector has really been put at a disadvantage through the whole halibut allocation process,” said the owner of Tides and Tales Sports Fishing.
“They shut (the season) down early four years in a row and It’s had detrimental effects to our tourism — it’s affected the hotels, restaurants, everywhere else,” said Kelly.
“Now, as a Band-aid to it, they said, ‘We haven’t really shut you down because you can lease access from the commercial sector.’”
Besides, says Kelly and others, even at $5 a pound, they could never recoup the costs of buying quota from commercial fishers, who get about 85 per cent of the total allowable catch of halibut.
“Every local committee on the coast has denounced this experimental licence — but the department keeps trying to ram this through,” said Kelly, who’s also chair of the North Island Sport Fishing Advisory Committee.
The problem is there was never a reasonable allocation from the beginning for recreational anglers, said Kelly, who noted the quota started at 12 per cent, before arriving at the current 15 per cent.
“The stock goes up and down and recreation anglers don’t necessarily have to take a halibut home, they just need the expectation of opportunity, the just need to know if they come to Port Hardy they have the opportunity to catch a halibut.”
There’s no guarantee they will, of course.
“We don’t really have a lot of attractions in Port Hardy and (halibut) is one of the few, but (anglers) won’t come to our community and spend money in our restaurants and hotels if they don’t have the opportunity,” said Kelly, who argued the best time to fish halibut is late September and into October, when the season is usually over for the recreational anglers.
Kelly said the early closures have caused “major harm” to his and other businesses.
“I think you’ll see this go to the courts if they keep pushing it,” he said.