Election good time for rational debate on halibut
Special to the Record
Recreational lodge and charter vessel interests are trying to make the federal government’s February decision to uphold a longstanding halibut allocation policy into an election issue, particularly on Vancouver Island.
The real question is whether we manage this public resource according to sound fisheries management that involves all stakeholders, or by who can get the most protesters in front of a TV camera, write the most letters to the editor, or fund extensive lobbying campaigns.
Political interference does not make for good fisheries management.
The February halibut decision upholds the 2003 division of Canada’s Total Allowable Catch between the two sectors, maintains recreational catch limits and establishes a pilot program to allow recreational interests to acquire additional quota. The decision also sets in place a process to examine options for 2012.
The 2003 halibut allocation decision was the result of a three-year, inclusive process. After independently facilitated meetings, the government retained an independent allocation advisor to meet with participants from both fisheries, and advise on sharing arrangements and how allocation could change over time.
Far from arbitrary, the halibut policy allocated commercial and recreational shares of 88 percent and 12 percent respectively, after First Nations rights have been met. It also proposed that recreational businesses should be able to acquire quota from the commercial sector to meet market demand.
The government’s recent decision allows the lodge and charter sector to grow, and Canadians with a B.C. tidal water recreational licence ($21 annually) can still catch a halibut every day. It also tasks parliamentary secretary Randy Kamp, MP for Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission, with drafting halibut management options for 2012.
It’s a transparent approach that’s in line with previous policy decisions, not one influenced by lobbying outside the process.
With Canada and the United States — signatories to the Pacific Halibut Treaty — in a cyclical period of low halibut abundance, conservation is vital to carefully managing the resource. Both countries have reduced allowable harvests for commercial and recreational sectors to avoid overfishing.
In B.C., allowable harvest limit for both sectors has declined from 13.24 million pounds in 2006 to 7.65 million pounds for 2011. These are difficult times for B.C.’s commercial halibut fishermen. In addition to high fuel prices and monitoring costs, we have seen our catch levels decrease by almost 43 per cent since 2006.
Commercial halibut fishermen understand the need to conserve the resource. We’re accountable for every fish we harvest, with each fish videotaped as it’s pulled from the water, recorded in a logbook, counted by a dockside monitor and tagged with a serial number to validate its origin.
The recreational fishery, with lodges and charters accounting for 60 to 70 per cent of the catch, has overfished its quota for three of the past four years.
Yet lodge and charter businesses want more fish at the expense of commercial fishermen and the Canadian public, most of whom buy halibut at grocery stores or in restaurants — not through trips to pricy fishing lodges.
The commercial halibut fishery has invested in the resource for over 100 years. We are the first fishery in B.C. to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as sustainable, with full support of the David Suzuki Foundation.
We match fleet size to harvest limits to reduce pressure on the resource, and count every single fish we catch.
Commercial halibut fishermen are ready to work within the process announced in February. Recreational fishermen should do the same.
Lyle Pierce is vice-president of the Pacific Halibut Management Association. He lives in Comox.