PORT McNEILL — Unwilling to take sides in a potential rift between commercial and sport fishermen who both make their livelihood on the North Island, the Mount Waddington Regional District Board voted down a motion to submit a letter to the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans supporting the recreational halibut fishery.
“To support one industry at the expense of another industry is a very slippery slope,” Port Hardy Mayor Bev Parnham said during debate held at the board’s regular meeting Jan. 18. “We need to make sure we’re not pitting one very important industry against another very important industry in this area.”
The motion was proposed by Area B director Phil Wainwright, who is concerned that a shutdown of the halibut sport fishery in the middle of summer would negatively impact the local economy through the loss of tourism.
“I recommend we ask DFO to find a way to avoid closing the fishery during our busy season,” Wainwright said. “That could cause us to lose tourists to the area and hurt the economy of the area.”
But other directors saw the motion as taking sides.
“For the first time in 10 years, we’re seeing a lot of (commercial) activity at our port, as well as (recreational),” said Norm Prince, Area C director from Coal Harbour.
Heidi Soltau, Area A director from Sointula, pointed out there are other ways to extend the recreational fishery than to cut the percentage of fish going to the commercial sector.
“If you cut down the catch limit to one a day, that would extend the season,” Soltau said. “If there is a size limit, that would help, too. “It’s a very complicated allocation issue, and I don’t think the board is equipped to deal with it at this point.”
Parnham agreed, noting that DFO has not yet announced its allocation totals for the 2011 season.
Wainwright, Area D director Dave Rushton and Port McNeill Mayor Gerry Furney voted for the motion. Soltau, Prince, Parnham, Port Alice Mayor Gail Neeley and Alert Bay Mayor Michael Berry voted against it.
A second motion, approving a letter inviting a DFO representative to attend a board meeting and discuss the halibut fishery passed.