The 2011 Pacific halibut recreational fishing season will open March 1, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea announced this week.
Recreational anglers with a tidal licence will be able to catch one halibut per day with two in possession.
Shea said in a news release the current sharing formula that allocates 88 per cent of the harvest to commercial fishermen and 12 per cent to recreational harvesters has been in place since 2003.
“Since then there have been a number of attempts by representatives of each sector to develop an acceptable way to transfer allocation between them,” she said, noting discussions among stakeholders in 2010 have reached an impasse.
“Our government recognizes the value of the recreational fishery to British Columbians and the economic opportunities it provides,” Shea said.
The B.C. Sportfishing Coalition criticized Shea’s plan.
“Minister Shea and Conservative MPs in B.C. have abandoned recreational anglers and sided with a small group of well-connected commercial quota holders,” coalition spokesperson Rob Alcock said in a news release.
“The decision to leave the halibut allocation policy unchanged will punish recreational anglers, the businesses that support them, and the thousands of people who are employed in sport fishing in the province.”
In 2003, the coalition said former fisheries minister Robert Thibault allocated 88 per cent of Canada’s Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of halibut to 436 commercial quota holders and 12 per cent to the province’s 100,000 recreational anglers. The latter have long opposed the policy, saying it privatizes Canada’s common-property halibut resource.
Since then, the coalition said recreational anglers have faced shortened seasons and a 50-per-cent reduction in catch limits. During the same period, commercial halibut quota became a tradable commodity. In 2010, fewer than half of the 436 commercial quota holders actually fished their catch.
“The rest simply leased out their rights and collected royalty cheques,” the news release states.
While the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) claims the commercial fishery is accountable, fisheries staff acknowledge they do not know who owns the 436 commercial quotas, the coalition said.
“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 the lucky few,” Alcock said. “Over the past two months, recreational anglers have held meetings, written letters and sought the support of B.C.’s Conservative MPs. I expect they will remember this decision when those MPs look to anglers for support in the coming months.”
The First Nations Summit has demanded to meet with Shea and Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs John Duncan.
“This decision completely defies Supreme Court of Canada decisions respecting First Nations/Aboriginal Fisheries,” the summit said in an open letter to both officials. “Your department is shamelessly dividing the spoils between the commercial and sports fishing interests.”
The group — speaking on behalf of First Nations involved in treaty negotiations in B.C. — said the announcement “flies in the face of good-faith negotiations.”
For the 2011 season, the federal government will undertake a trial whereby recreational stakeholders can access experimental licences to lease quota from commercial harvesters.