Recreational halibut quota increased to 15 per cent but season may end in August

 Updated

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has increased the recreational halibut quota to 15 per cent.

A release issued this afternoon by Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield says, “the Minister has instructed the Department to make an immediate correction in the allocation formula for the Pacific halibut fishery. Under the new formula, 85 per cent of the resource will be allocated to the commercial sector and 15 per cent to the recreational sector.”

However, this may not be good news for the recreational halibut industry. A news release from the Sports Fishing of Institute British Columbia, issued late Friday, says that regulations not mentioned in Ashfields’s Friday afternoon news release from DFO, says the recreational season will end August 15. DFO officials were not available for confirmation late Friday.

So if there is a shorter season, the quota increase may not mean that much to the recreational sector.

 The DFO news release goes on to say:

The 2012 Pacific halibut recreational fishing season will open March 1st. Recreational anglers with a tidal water licence will be able to catch one halibut per day with two in possession. Fisheries and Oceans Canada will continue to work with recreational community representatives to identify monitoring and management measures that will provide greatest flexibility and season length while staying within their allocation.

The release from Robert Alcock, of the Sports Fishing Institute says:

Today’s changes to the recreational halibut fishery, will ensure that in 2012, recreational anglers will experience the shortest halibut fishing season in memory, said Sport Fishing Institute of BC President Robert Alcock. “Minister Ashfield closed the recreational halibut fishing on September 5th last year and caused extensive economic damage to the sport fishing industry”, said Alcock. “Today he served notice that recreational halibut fishing will end in the first week of August, which will wreak havoc in the sport fishing industry and which will not conserve a single fish.”

Ashfield announced that he will not accept the unanimous recommendation of Canada’s 300,000 recreational anglers and create a “fixed number’ fishery that would allow recreational anglers to enjoy a predictable fishery during periods of low halibut abundance. Instead, Ashfield simply tinkered with the flawed allocation system established in 2003 which will ensure that Canada’s 436 commercial halibut quota holders can continue to harvest 85% of Canada’s sustainable Total Allowable Catch (TAC). The TAC is established annually by the International Pacific Halibut Commission and the amount of halibut that Canada and the US can harvest without endangering the long-term stability of halibut stocks.

Ashfield said in his news release that the decision will provide greater long-term certainty to the Pacific halibut fishery.

“Our government is making good on a commitment to provide greater long-term certainty in the Pacific halibut fishery for First Nations, commercial and recreational harvesters, and, most importantly encouraging jobs and economic growth in British Columbia.”

The release also says the controversial program where recreational fishers could buy additional quota from the commercial sector will continue, despite the fact a report from DFO to the International Pacific Halibut Commission indicated the program was a failure, with few people taking part.

While the recreational halibut fishery has lobbied for years to increase the quota from the old system of 12 per cent for the recreational sector and 88 per cent for the commercial sector, today’s decision comes after the IPHC lowered the overall quota for the Pacific Coast by 18 per cent. BC’s quota for 2012 is eight per cent lower, at 7.038 million pounds of halibut, a decrease  from the 2011 quota of 7.650 million pounds.

At the IPHC meetings in Anchorage, Alaska, last month, scientists expressed long term fears about the health of the halibut biomass, due to the large number of undersized females. At the same meeting scientists and fishers also said that the bycatch, especially from the pollock trawl fishery in the Gulf of Alaska was devastating the halibut “nursery.”

Before the news of the early closure of the season broke, Kitimat mayor Joanne Monaghan, recreating to the news of the quota increase said. “Hopefully some of the hard lobbying by the Kitimat group did paid off. I believe it did. Good going guys. Keep it up, still things to do.”

In the Institute’s news release Alcock went on to say:

 

During the 2011 election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Island residents that “Our government recognizes the importance of the halibut fishery in BC. The jobs and regional economic impact of the commercial, recreational and related tourism in BC are substantial. We remain committed to finding a solution to BC’s halibut allocation issue in advance of the 2012 season that strikes a fair balance between all sectors.”

“Recreational halibut fishers took the Prime Minister at his word,” said Alcock. “Sadly, today we have learned the hard way that the Prime Minister’s word is of little value, particularly to the hundreds of businesses, thousands of sport fishing industry employees and the hundred thousand Canadians who enjoy recreational halibut fishing.”

According to a recent study conducted for the BC Seafood Alliance (the commercial sector’s industry association), the recreational fishery in BC produces $642 million in annual sales, pays $150 million in wages and benefits, creates more than 7,800 jobs and 3,950 person-years of employment and contributes $240 million to the province’s Gross Domestic Product.

 

Editor’s Note:  Journalists are always wary of a government news release issued late on Friday afternoon. On the surface, the increase in the recreational quota was good news, something the guides and fishers had been fighting for years. Still, I was wondering why it came out on a Friday afternoon.  It took the Sports Fishing Institute of BC, who was able to find the regulations that they say indicate the season ends on August 15, that shows why the release came out  late on Friday.

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