The recreational halibut fishery season is closing its earliest in history.
The season closes at midnight Sept. 5, because recreational anglers are expected to meet their allowable catch limit earlier this year. Last year the fishery closed Oct. 18.
“This is just totally unacceptable,” said Wayne Harling, a member of the B.C. Coalition of Salt Water Anglers and Nanaimo Fish and Game Protective Association. “The public has a right to fish. I’m bitterly disappointed in the attitude of the ministry and department staff.”
Harling said the early closure is stirring unresolved issues anglers have been fighting to have addressed for years.
Recreational anglers want their slice of the halibut fishery increased. The total allowable catch, determined by the International Pacific Halibut Commission based on halibut stock health, is split 88 to 12 per cent between the commercial and recreational fisheries. First Nations also receive a portion which is allocated before the split. Anglers want their percentage increased to 20 per cent.
Harling said there are still halibut in the water, but they are considered part of the commercial quota.
“The commercial fishery has no right to the resources,” said Harling.
The commercial sector says the division is fair and gives access to halibut for people who can’t fish themselves.
“We supply way more Canadians to access to halibut they own than the recreational fishery,” said Chris Sporer, manager of the Pacific Halibut Management Association. “I don’t think they should have priority over Canadians who don’t own a boat or can’t afford to go to a lodge.”
Sporer said halibut stocks are declining and the total allowable catch is decreasing every year. He estimates the commercial fishermen’s catch has dropped about 40 per cent in the last six years and it is affecting revenues and the livelihood of fishermen.
“Nobody wants to see fishing close, but we are in a period of low halibut,” said Sporer. “We cannot over-harvest the resource. We have got to put fish first.”
Harling said the issue isn’t about conservation, but allocation.
“We have a right to the resources,” he said.
The total allowable catch for this year is 7.6 million pounds. The recreation sector’s portion, 12 per cent, is 947,760 pounds. The commercial sector’s portion, 88 per cent, is 6.7 million pounds.
Tamee Karim, DFO regional manager of ground fish, said halibut is in a low period. The total allowable catch has fallen to 7.6 million pounds from 13 million pounds when regulations were first introduced in 2004.
Closing the recreational sector is one of the options the department is using to ensure halibut aren’t overfished, as well as adjusting possession and bag limits. But the recreational sector has exceeded its allowable catch limit every since 2004 but one – the cumulative overages equlling one million pounds of fish.
The recreational sector doesn’t have the same oversight as the commercial sector, which is closely monitored.
Karim said the recreation fishery sector used to be open from the spring, typically February or March, to the end of December. However, with the recreational anglers catching their allowable catch prior to the season end it has been closing earlier.
This February, Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, appointed parliamentary secretary Randy Kamp to develop options for the 2012 season to address concerns raised by stakeholders. He will examine conservation, economic prosperity and flexibility options to transfer allotments between sectors.
In the meantime, a pilot project, the Halibut Experimental Fishery Program was created for 2011. The program allows recreational fishermen the option to purchase quota from the commercial fishery. The license is free through the DFO and people can purchase the quota by the pound based on market values, which are updated every week.
Harling said recreational anglers shouldn’t have to lease quota from commercial fishermen. And Sporer said commercial fishermen would rather keep the quota for themselves but are trying to work with the Fisheries and Oceans Ministry to create viable options for the dispute.
For more information on the fishing program please go to www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca.