Halibut fishermen weigh in

Commercial halibut fishermen are weighing in on the debate about quota allocations.

  • Jan. 27, 2011 12:00 p.m.

Commercial halibut fishermen are weighing in on the debate about quota allocations.

The Sports Fishing Advisory Board fears the halibut season will be cut short, closed as early as mid-July, because the allocation of 12 per cent to the recreational fishery is inadequate.

That quota was designated in 2003. The remaining 88 per cent was allocated to the commercial fishery; of that, 17 per cent was allocated to First Nations.

Now the SFAB wants those allocations changed to avoid an early closure to the halibut season this summer.

But a North Island commercial halibut fisherman says the allocation isn’t the problem.

“We need consistent access to this resource to put fish on people’s plates throughout the year,” said Tom Russell, owner of the Quatsino Star. His dad started fishing in his 20s, and Russell joined him after high school. Despite SFAB claims that quotas were “gifted”, Russell said his family purchased their quota more than 20 years ago.

“Every pound we currently own, we purchased,” said Russell. “And leasing quota allows new participants to make a living.”

Russell said the quota debate really stems from the rapid growth in fishing lodges and resorts in recent years, putting pressure on that 12 per cent sport fishing allocation.

“This is one industry that is growing in an unrestricted fashion,” said Russell. “They are selling an experience. One halibut per customer should be sufficient.”

The Pacific Halibut Management Association of B.C. (PHMA) agrees.

“Commercial halibut fishermen are ordinary Canadians who support the rights of individual anglers to catch a halibut every so often for enjoyment and to fill up the freezer,” said a statement from the PHMA. “But most ordinary Canadians buy their halibut at the grocery store or enjoy it in a restaurant; they can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars to visit a fancy fishing lodge for a few nights. Approximately 70 per cent of the recreational halibut catch is attributed to the lodge and charter businesses.”

Ultimately, conservation is an issue. Halibut are currently in a cyclical population low and the PHMA fears changes now could impact the resource long-term.

“Over the last 30 years commercial fishermen have invested in reforms to meet conservation requirements, sustain the resource for future generations, and make Pacific halibut a sustainable, healthy seafood product for consumers,” said the PHMA. “As a result of these reforms and costly investments by commercial fishermen, the British Columbia halibut fishery became the province’s first fishery to gain Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification, and groups like the David Suzuki Foundation call it one of the best managed fisheries in the world.”

Vancouver Island North MP John Duncan, a sport fishermen himself, said conservation must come first.

“The key concern that we must focus on, however, is the sustainability of the resource,” said Duncan. “Management of this fishery, including allocation decisions, should be based on science, thorough monitoring and good management principles. There are many examples historically to demonstrate that decisions based on politics rather than science rarely yield the best result for the fishery.”

Duncan is calling for more discussion to address the concerns of sport fishermen and the lodges.

“A lasting and equitable solution will require all of the parties to work together in good faith and with the best interest of the resource in mind,” said Duncan. “Our primary concern must remain the health and sustainability of the fishery, and any change must provide a fair balance between the unique West Coast requirements of the First Nation, recreation and commercial sectors.”

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