Allocation fight threatens fishery

Dear editor,

Dear editor,

Re: Fishermen rally support.

As a commercial halibut fisherman and North Island resident, I feel I must add to the debate regarding limitations in the recreational halibut fishery. The topic, while worthy of discussion, has been misdirected and fueled by charter and lodge business owners who are trying to rally public support prior to the commencement of the fishing season. The perspective put forward, however, does little for small coastal communities and First Nations which rely on this resource for sustenance. It also compromises a commercial fishery which has safeguarded this resource for generations, and is regarded as a world leader in accountability, sustainability, and best fishing practices.

The alignment of fishing lodge/charter business interests with sport fishermen is no longer sensible or in the best interest of the resource or the public. Allocation issues need to be addressed separately for these two user groups which have very different interests. (Unchecked access to halibut by the lodge/charter businesses will lead to increased pressure on local fishing grounds, to the detriment of local anglers and First Nations). The lodge/charter operators need to acknowledge that they are commercial entities and start operating within management schemes set up to protect the resource. Options brought forward through the Pacific halibut allocation policy, which the Sport Fish Advisory Board (SFAB) refuse to meaningfully engage, have provided a mechanism so that the recreational sector—particularly the lodge/charter business—could continue to access the resource. Halibut allocation can move between sectors and fleets using market-based transactions, and DFO can track the catch and quota. It would allow the lodge/charter sector to see an increase in the value of their operations and be better able to define their fishing season for guests. However, it appears the lodge/charter business sector would rather lobby government and get unlimited access to halibut, removing unlimited numbers from the local fishing grounds. Local sport fishermen have to ask themselves if the SFAB is truly representing their interests, or simply the interest of business entities.

The demands of the SFAB are a direct attack on the feasibility of the commercial halibut fishery. The impact of appropriating halibut from the commercial sector will not be confined to halibut fishermen – the entire world-renowned groundfish integration program will be jeopardized by reducing the halibut needed by dogfish, lingcod, and sablefish fishermen to sustain their operations. Additionally, these demands are being put forward at a time when halibut abundance is low. BC commercial halibut fishermen have seen their allowable catch levels (and incomes) reduced by approximately 47% since 2007. We are near the point where some fishermen will find it no longer feasible to continue. The erosion of the commercial fleet does not help your community.

For many years the commercial fleet, in conjunction with DFO and First Nations, have made efforts to work with the SFAB, to come up with a solution that benefits all stakeholders. While we welcome public input and acknowledgement of the issues, it would be far more productive to continue discussions outside of the political realm where science, conservation, and management are at the forefront and not business interests.

Tom Russell

F/V Quatsino Star