Halibut season met with disappointment

Recreational and commercial fishing sectors are disappointed with the recent halibut fishery allocation formula announcement.

Recreational anglers want a bigger portion of the catch and commercial fishermen say the change created instability in their industry and undermines conservation efforts.

The halibut fishery will be split between the commercial and recreational sectors 85:15 per cent, respectively, Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield announced earlier this month. Previously, it was a 88 per cent for commercial and 12 per cent recreational.

The 2012 halibut season opens March 1 and recreational anglers with a tidal water licence can catch one halibut per day with two in possession.

Clyde Wicks, chairman of the Sport Fishing Advisory Committee Nanaimo branch, said anglers were looking for a 25-per cent portion of the total allowable catch, and a Feb. 1 to Dec. 31 season. Recreational fishermen are now worried they might face a shorter season because of the limits.

“This is a slap in the face. This is an insult and as a Canadian I’m outraged,” said Gerald Rupp, owner of Invictus Charters.

Rupp said historically it’s busy during July, August and the Labour Day Weekend, but he’s worried the season could end in mid-August with the current allocation.He has operated his business in Nanaimo for 20 years but because of the uncertainty this year, he cancelled hiring two guides and purchasing a boat for his charter company.

Wicks said as a recreational angler, he's also disappointed, especially since the government took more than six months to come back with only a slight increase.

“There was a lot of consultation and a lot of meetings and nothing came out of it,” said Wicks.

Chris Sporer, manager of the Pacific Halibut Management Association, which represents commercial halibut fishermen, said it’s also a bad decision for the commercial industry.

“It destabilizes our industry,” he said.

Commercial fishermen already deal with the changing nature of stocks that go up and down. The sector is a well-monitored fishery and the allocation decision transfers more fish into one that is poorly monitored, he said.

Conservation is a shared responsibility and allocating more of the catch to a group that can lobby the hardest is not in the best interest of the fish, Sporer said, adding the recreational sector has overfished for the last five or six years, which totals about a million pounds of halibut over their allocation.

Wicks countered that the issue isn’t about conservation, because any amount the recreational anglers overfish is taken off the total allowable catch for the following year.

This year’s total allowable catch, after the First Nations allocation for food, social and ceremonial purposes, is about seven million pounds. The commercial sector’s portion is nearly six million pounds and the recreational sector’s is nearly one million.

The experimental licence program introduced last year to allow recreational fishermen to lease halibut quota from commercial harvesters based on market value continues this year.  The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said changes will be made to the program based on feedback from 2011.

Wicks said experimental licensing was a “total flop last year” and he doesn’t expect many recreational fishermen will take advantage of the program.

He said recreational anglers don’t yet know what action they will take to address their concerns about the halibut allocation.

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