During the 2010 “Halibut Transfer Mechanism” meetings a senior DFO member told me the only way to change the current halibut allocation policy was with political pressure. I believe that DFO never thought the recreational sector could unite and stand up for their collective rights. The B.C. Sportfishing Coalition proved them wrong. The flawed halibut allocation policy has now become a political issue and rightfully so.
The BCSFC is committed to informing the public on the issue of Canadian Halibut Allocation. Over the past few months the coalition and recreational anglers have established an interactive website, written thousands of letters to provincial and federal politicians and held town hall meetings in communities up and down the coast that have been attended by avid anglers and concerned Canadian citizens. In short, recreational anglers rallied to the cause like never before.
On February 15 (what is now referred to as “Black Tuesday”) Fisheries Minister Gail Shea ignored us … at least for now. Shea tossed fuel on the fire by announcing that DFO would pursue a status quo 88/12 allocation for this season and has suggested that if recreational anglers require more quota, then they will have to pay the gifted commercial quota holders for it. She and her fellow Conservative MPs in B.C. have dismissed recreational anglers and sided with a small group of well-connected commercial quota holders. The decision to leave the halibut allocation policy unchanged will punish the 100,000 recreational anglers that fish for halibut each year, the businesses that support them and the thousands of people who are employed in sport fishing in the province.
DFO knows that in 2003, former Fisheries Minister Robert Thibault made a mistake when he gifted 88% of Canada’s Total Allowable Catch (TAC) to 436 commercial quota holders and allocated only 12% to the province’s 100,000 recreational halibut anglers. Recreational anglers have long opposed the policy and argued that it privatizes Canada’s common-property halibut resource.
Since 2003, recreational anglers have faced shortened seasons and a 50 per cent reduction in normal catch limits. During the same period, commercial halibut quota became a tradable commodity. I have been at International Pacific Halibut Commission sessions when some of the commercial sector has voted in favour of a lower TAC for Canada. Commercial Quota holders simply raise the price of their quota to accommodate for reduced TAC, less work and the same amount of profit for them. In 2010 less than half of the 436 commercial quota holders actually fished their catch. The rest simply leased out their rights and collected royalty cheques. Amazingly, while DFO claims that the commercial fishery is accountable, DFO staff has now acknowledged that they do not know who actually owns the 436 commercial quotas that control 88% of Canada’s halibut TAC.
Minister Shea’s suggestion that individual anglers can now seek to lease quota from commercial quota holders is confirmation of her view that Canada’s halibut resource is private property owned by a lucky few. This is simply unacceptable. The coalition will press on and make sure that every BC Conservative MP knows that they will be held accountable for this ill-conceived decision. With the Federal Election happening on May 2, I expect that Conservative MPs will soon come looking to our community for support. I know that recreational anglers will remind them of how we were treated when we needed their support.
Visit www.bchalibut.org for regularly updated information.
Institute of BC