Links: Halibut controversy continues

Environment Fishery Links

Comox Valley Echo

Halibut decision tramples rights

>Larry Peterson
I am absolutely stinking mad.
DFO is going to close down recreational halibut fishing as of Sept. 5? This action is an attack on my rights as a taxpaying, law-abiding Canadian citizen.

Victoria Times Colonist

Halibut season end hurts communities

By Lanny Sawchuk, Oak Bay Marine Group

Last week’s announcement of a shutdown of recreational halibut fishing is terrible news for coastal communities.
Our company operates businesses on the coast, including sports fishing resorts and marinas. Several will be severely impacted by this closure. Our employees will soon be dealing with guests unable to fulfil their plans to fish halibut, guests who in many cases travelled from great distances, at great expense, to have that experience. We’re also dealing with cancellations. We’ll be cutting back staffing accordingly, resulting in a ripple effect of lost economic activity for communities.

The salmon study controversy. How to write a news release without answering the question


Fisheries minister Keith Ashfield and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans today issued a news release concerning the controversy over the muzzling of DFO scientist Kristi Miller and her genetic study of Fraser River salmon which suggests a virus may be responsible for the decline of the stock.  Although Miller published her study in the journal Science, she was not permitted to speak the media about it.

The DFO news release from this afternoon is a classic example of not answering the actual question while seeming to assure the public that the minister and department are doing their job. DFO also says it supports the department’s scientists, without mentioning that the DFO was originally willing to make Miller available to the media, it was Stephen Harper’s Privy Council Office that said she couldn’t.

You can read the full  news release. Response to Media Reports about Science at Fisheries and Oceans Canada

On Miller’s study the news release says:

 In fact, the research and report by Dr. Kristi Miller on Pacific salmon was not withheld from anyone; Dr. Miller’s report was published in a broadly circulated science magazine and remains widely available to the media and public through the Fisheries and Oceans Canada website, and as an exhibit through the Commission’s website.

(The Commission refers to the Cohen Commission on the decline of salmon stocks)

The publication of a scientific article in the journal Science is not at question.

What the Privy Council Office did was forbade a prominent scientist the opportunity to explain to the public in layman’s terms the significance of her findings.

Science journalism works like this. The major journals advise the media well ahead of time, under embargo, about the pending publication of major papers. The reason for this simple and supported by both the media and the scientific community. It takes time and effort to craft an accurate report of a scientific paper, whether reporting for a newspaper or the web. Creating an accurate and accessible television item on a scientific paper, a television item that also needs pictures and voice clips is both an art and science. Even in these days of cutbacks, the networks hunger for reporters and producers who can do it in under two minutes. If instead the media has to rush out a story on a scientific article on the day of publication, it is bound to be superficial and inaccurate. This was the process that was short circuited by the Privy Council Office when it, not DFO, muzzled Kristi Miller.

This is the question that the DFO news release ignores.

The news release then raises a smokescreen by saying:

Our scientists have also published hundreds of reports subscribed to by tens of thousands of people throughout Canada and the world. For example, this week, Fisheries scientist Dr. Kenneth Frank released a report about positive signs in the recovery of groundfish stocks off the coast of Nova Scotia. Dr. Frank’s research was published in Nature, the world’s most highly cited science journal, and he spoke to nearly a dozen interested members of the press on his report this week alone.

. While it is true, that the report on the rebound of groundfish stocks is receiving wide attention and as DFO says, Kenneth Frank was made available to the media, a cynical observer would be quick to point out that the Kenneth Frank story is good news for Canada and for the Harper government, while the Kristi Miller salmon virus could be bad news for both the country and the government.

So now it looks that the Privy Council Office is adopting a “good news” agenda. If it’s good, a government scientist can talk to the media, if it’s bad news, bury it.

 Finally the government relies in this case, on the “before the courts” excuse it used when the story of the salmon study first broke in Post Media News, referring to Justice Bruce Cohen’s commission of inquiry into the decline of the Pacific salmon stocks.

 Moreover, at Justice Cohen’s request, the government has provided almost 500,000 documents and many hours of testimony deemed relevant by Justice Cohen to his inquiry. Dr. Miller will also present her research findings at the Commission in the coming weeks along with several other scientists and officials.

Our government has been very clear that judicial inquiries are not conducted through the media. Evidence that may be relevant to Justice Cohen’s findings should be managed through the commission process.

What this means is that government may use the “before the courts” excuse in the future to muzzle any scientific debate on a controversial issue. In reality, of course, that simply means excluding the public and media from a debate on any subject that would likely be discussed openly at any scientific gathering or congress.

Of course, if the Harper government is in favour of something, then a “commission process” appears to be irrelevant. As has been widely reported, the Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver, is ignoring the quasi-juidicial nature of the National Energy Board hearings into the Enbridge Northern Gateway project and the various LNG projects, all potentially using the port of Kitimat, by telling any reporter and any audience that the projects are in the “national interest” when finding the public interest is the mandate of the NEB.

Rex Murphy’s rant on search and rescue cutbacks: National Post

Link The Coast

Rex Murphy: A decision so dumb, only a government would make it

Rex Murphy, writing in The National Post is fully justified in his rant Saturday against more search and rescue cutbacks in Newfoundland by the Harper government. Since it involves his beloved “Rock,” my former colleague is at his rhetorical best (and as the northwest knows the BC coast faces equally dumb cutbacks here)

Scarcely had Mr. Harper captured the PM’s job again, this time as a
majority leader in the last election, when one of his ministers came out
with the equally ludicrous decision to move search-and-rescue
operations: Last week, it was announced that the co-ordination centre in
St. John’s (along with one in Quebec City) was slated for termination,
with services relocated to Halifax and Trenton, Ont.

And according to reports circulating this week, the Department of
National Defence’s search-and-rescue services might soon be privatized.
(Currently, the job is done in partnership between DND and the Coast
Guard, which is overseen by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans). If
that happens, there’s no telling where the services would be relocated.

What is in the air in Ottawa? How do such absurd notions take root in
the federal mind? Would they ever take similar steps in regard to, say,
the regulation of Lake Ontario shipping?

Search and Rescue is not some toy service. It concerns life and
death. And considering the tragedies that fret the history of the
province over the centuries, this would not only be a wrong decision,
but an offensive one, as well.

Rex is certainly right on this issue, but wrong about the weather, when he says about Newfoundland being special:

Newfoundland is unique. It stands alone, shrouded in impenetrable mists and answering to the rhythms of its own weather gods. Newfoundland weather is not a little like the world of subatomic physics; a buzz of random and paradoxical probabilities, a thing that may be observed but not measured or, contrariwise, measured but not observed, and not either, ever, from Halifax. It is a wonder and a despair.

The weather along the BC coast has been shrouded in impenetrable mists for most of this summer (if you can call it summer).

The decision by Coast Guard bureaucrats  to replace the (70 foot, 21 metre) Point Henry in Prince Rupert with a smaller, (47 foot, 14 metre) open motor life boat and the similar move in Campbell River replace the Point Race was protested up and down the coast, and almost cost Vancouver Island North MP John Duncan his seat in the May election. Duncan, of course, is  toeing the Conservative party line now that he is safely back in the Commons.

The decisions on both coasts are equally dumb. The ocean is as dangerous in Newfoundland as on the BC coast.

 But Rex spoils his rant with his own dumb ideological conclusion:

My only explanation is that it serves to illustrate this unshakeable
axiom: Some decisions are so dumb that only governments can make them.

Northwest BC has had been the victim of many really dumb decisions by the private, corporate sector over the years and those dumb decisions are responsible for the economic decline of the region (with no help from government). The difference should be that government decisions may be influenced and changed by the electorate.  There are no checks or balances on corporate decisions.

So if Rex is right and search and rescue is privatized, becomes some sort of  for-profit venture, what dumb decisions are we going to hear from the CEO of SARCAN LLC? Checking someone’s credit score before launching a rescue?

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US proposes handing Alaska halibut allocation dispute to international commission, have charters buy commercial quota


Editor’s note: With this entry, Northwest Coast Energy News launches its planned expansion of coverage from energy and energy related environment issues to include other environmental and related issues in the northwest, including fishery issues.

For the past year, anglers, guides and outfitters on the British Columbia coast have been concerned about the allocation problems with the halibut fishery, with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans sticking to the original quota system of 88 per cent of the total allowable catch going to the commercial fishery and 12 per cent to the recreational fishery, which includes both recreational anglers and the tourist industry.

There have been parallel problems in the state of Alaska, where the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which governs the US fishery, began moves to take away the licences from many of the halibut charter operators on the lower end of the income scale. That move is currently being challenged in a federal court in Washington, DC.

On Thursday,  NOAA proposed solutions to Alaska halibut dispute,  in effect, handing the hot potato decision on halibut allocationover to the International Pacifc Halibut Commission, suggesting that the Commission decide the split for charter and commercial allocation when making the overall decision on total allowable catch.  NOAA has also proposed allowing Alaska halibut charter operators to buy commercial quota, similar to the Canadian proposal from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans last winter.

The key phrase in the July 21 NOAA news release says

The International Pacific Halibut Commission, through which the United
States and Canada jointly manage the halibut resource from California to
the Bering Sea, would determine total commercial and charter catch
limits for southeast Alaska and the central Gulf of Alaska each year
before the fishing season….

Allocations to the charter and commercial sectors would vary with changes in the number of halibut available for harvest as determined by the best available science.

The actual details from the US Federal Register states:

The International Pacific Halibut Commission would
divide the annual combined catch limits into separate annual catch limits for the commercial and guided sport fisheries. The CSP (catch sharing plan) allocates a fixed percentage of the annual combined catch limit to the guided sport and commercial fisheries. The fixed percentage allocation to each sector varies with halibut abundance. The IPHC would multiply the CSP allocation percentages for each area by the annual combined catch limit to calculate the commercial and guided sport catch limits in net pounds. At moderate to low levels of halibut abundance, the CSP could provide the guided sport sector with a smaller poundage catch limit than it would have received under the GHL (guideline harvest levels) program. Conversely, at higher levels of abundance, the CSP could provide the guided sport sector with a larger poundage catch limit than it would have received under the GHL program.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council intended the CSP sector allocations to balance the needs of the guided sport and commercial sectors at all levels of halibut abundance.
Although the CSP allocation method is a significant change from the current allocation method under the GHL, National Marine Fisheries Service believes that the allocation under the CSP provides a more equitable management response

On the issue of buying commercial quota, the NOAA release says:

The catch sharing plan would authorize transfers of commercial halibut individual fishing quota to charter halibut permit holders for harvest by anglers in the charter halibut fishery.
Those transfers would offer charter vessel anglers in southeastern Alaska and the central Gulf of Alaska an opportunity to catch additional halibut, up to specified limits.

The news release goes on to say:

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council recommended the rule to
establish a clear allocation between the commercial and charter sectors
that fish in these areas.

Currently, the commercial and charter halibut fisheries are managed
under different programs. The commercial halibut fishery has been
managed under a catch limit program since 1995. The charter halibut
sector has been managed under a different harvest guideline since 2003,
which gives charter fishermen a number of fish they can catch per guided
angler per day, but does not ensure the overall catch stays within a
definitive catch limit.

The proposed catch sharing plan, which is scheduled to be in place by
2012, is designed to foster a sustainable fishery by preventing
overharvesting of halibut and would introduce provisions that provide
flexibility for charter and commercial fishermen.

Those who wish to comment on the draft policy must respond before September 6.

Link to NOAA news release

NOAA draft rule in US Federal Register

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