PORT McNEILL—A contentious motion to support a fixed halibut sportfishing season prompted spirited discussion between Regional District of Mount Waddington directors before being approved 5-4 during the board’s monthly meeting in February.
The motion, brought by Area B representative Phil Wainwright, the board’s representative on the North Island Sportfishing Advisory Board, will ask the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) to request the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans ensure the recreational and sport halibut fishery “is set prior to the end of February and that the closing date to be no earlier than mid-September, subject to living within the recreational fishing quota, to enable maximum benefit to be derived from this fishery.”
Fisheries notice No. 87, released by DFO last month, specified Canada’s overall allocation of Pacific halibut at 7.04 million pounds, with the recreational fishery allocation set at 1.08 million pounds. On paper, the recreational season runs from Mar. 15 “until further notice”, which historically has been until the allocation has been met, bringing an abrupt end to the sportfishing season at random times of the year.
“It’s the wish of the Sportfish Advisory Board to have a halibut season assured, so tourists and people who come to the North Island to fish have an expectation of going halibut fishing during the recreational season,” said Wainwright.
The motion, approved only after board chair Al Huddlestan was forced to cast a tie-breaking vote, does not address quota distribution. And, as a letter of recommendation, it carries no statutory weight. But it drew fire from members on the board who saw it as either ignoring sustainability of the halibut fishery or taking sides in what had been an uneasy truce between commercial and sportfishing interests in the region.
“Halibut fishing, both sport and commercial, is important to Sointula,” said Heidi Soltau, Area A director from Malcolm Island. “Of course we support the sport fishery and we want our North Island businesses to do well. But not at the expense or our commercial fishermen.”
Wainwright pointed out the motion seeks only to provide assurance to one sector of the North Island economy that relies on tourism and visiting clients, without asking that quota be transferred from another sector.
“It’s not my intent to change the allocation or do anything with the commercial side of things,” he said. “It’s to work within the allocation that measures be put in place to have a defined season. I don’t want to see them close the season (early), because it detracts from the experience.”
The original motion proposed did not address allocation, and was amended to include the clause “subject to living within the recreational fishing quota” before going forward to a vote. But the entire process left a sour taste with its critics.
“Usually there are things upon which (the RD Board) agrees to disagree,” said Soltau. “Because this was such an odd motion to put forward and because it got watered down, all it did was foster bad feelings.”
The next AVICC meeting is set for April, so even if its board agrees to forward a fixed-season request to DFO, it could not take effect before 2014.
New meeting time
Beginning in February, the RD board meetings have been moved from a 4 p.m. start to 2 p.m. while incorporating the economic development report, which previously had been presented in a separate meeting.
The change was effected through acclimation, though the board is expected to amend its procedure bylaw to permanently establish the new time, which will aid directors subject to ferry schedules or long evening drives, particularly in the dark winter months.
RDMW board meetings are held the third Tuesday of each month at the District office in Port McNeill.