I am disturbed and I feel betrayed by Prime Minster Stephen Harper and my member of parliament, John Duncan, over this important recreational fishing issue. I am further dismayed when I learned that Mr. Harper is in Europe supposedly helping to right the wrongs against the Libyan people while contributing to the destruction of the citizen rights of recreational fishing Canadians. The reasons for my deeply emotional sense of betrayal is based on the announced closure of the recreational halibut fishery on Sunday while the commercial fishery remains open to catch hundreds of thousands of pounds of halibut before the end of the year. It is an allocation issue not a conservation issue.
When Harper visited Campbell River during the recent election he stated he would solve the allocation issue and Duncan indicated he understood that issue. I along with thousands of recreational anglers am furious over this untimely, brutish closure on Sept. 5. The recreational fishing industry, which is an important industry to coastal B.C., has been wounded and trashed by a fisheries department that is biased towards commercial fisheries and uncaring about citizen rights dating back to the Magna Carta.
Pictured with this column is a photograph of an 85-year-old happy Canadian Citizen (namely me), who has just enjoyed the thrill of landing a 30-plus pound halibut while fishing with friends out of Port Hardy last week. It is part of the 12 per cent allocation of the halibut quota to over 100,000 recreational anglers, mostly Canadian plus valuable tourists. In the meantime the remaining 88 per cent of the allocation has been given to 436 commercial halibut quota holders of which only 156 go out and actually fish. According to reliable reports the balances of the quota holders simply lease out the quotas and collect royalty cheques. It smacks of a very successful commercial fishery lobby in the halls of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the parliamentary offices of politicians in Ottawa. Yet my prime minister is overseas supposedly trying to correct the sins of the disgraced dictator of Libya.
My personal politics have always been right of centre, but I watched the Celebration of Life of the late Jack Layton, Opposition Leader at our parliament in Ottawa. It was a moving, soul inspiring two-hour celebration of the life of a dedicated, uplifting, honest politician who has left a hole in our national politics – but his untimely passing will serve as an inspiration for millions of ordinary Canadians far from the halls of power. He cared about the sharing of the wealth of this enormously wealthy country, which seems bent on giving the common property resources of the people over to the control of a privileged few as in the case of the halibut allocation to a small number of commercial fishing interests.
My message in this column is for recreational anglers to get off their collective butts and let these self-serving politicians know you are fed up. Mr. Duncan, the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, is not very good at responding to the concerns of his constituents on this matter; yet while campaigning in the recent election he assured us he would put a senior person on the problem to seek a solution. His constituency office phone number in Courtenay is (250) 338-9381 or toll free at 1-800-667-8404. You can mail him a letter in Ottawa without the cost of a stamp.
As I watched the ceremony on Saturday morning the camera moved around the assembled crowd and I couldn’t help but wonder what went through the minds of the assembled politicians, both current and past prime ministers. It was a simple moving testament to a great Canadian and his concern about the well being of all Canadians – not just the power and privileges of a few. Recreational anglers come from all levels of society, but in our society the majorities come from ordinary Canadians who enjoy the simple pleasures of catching our own fish.
As recreational anglers we can pick up Jack Layton’s legacy of hope for all and assert our rights as ordinary citizens to a fair share of the halibut resource and with them the common property resources of our collective oceans from coast to coast to coast.
Statistics source – SFI Newsletter
Ralph Shaw is a master fly fisherman who was awarded the Order of Canada in 1984 for his conservation efforts. In 20 years of writing a column in the Comox Valley Record it has won several awards.