At the beginning of the year, a debate broke out between the recreational and commercial fishing industries over the allocation of halibut, which at times was quite acrimonious. While charter fishermen were concerned about their share of the total allowable catch, it seems that after the mid-point of the fishing season, the commercial fishery has actually landed less halibut this year than at the same time last year.
According to the International Pacific Halibut Commission, the halibut fisheries opened on March 12 and will close on November 18. Through July 20, 49 per cent of the 2011 commercial fishery quota from B.C. waters had been caught, in comparison to 63 per cent at the same time last year.
In spite of that drop, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said that there is no change from previous years with regards to the number of fishermen out on the water. Lara Sloane, a media relations officer with DFO , said there is nothing different from what the fishery usually sees, although there has been some bad weather, so some boats that wanted to go out were not able to. She said that there is usually a push in the later months of the season, such as September and October, but that is typical.
In 2003, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans established a pacific halibut quota of 88 per cent for commercial fishermen and 12 cent for recreational fishermen. It was also decided that recreational anglers with a tidal license would be able to catch one halibut per day with two in possession. Ever since then, there have been a number of attempts by representatives of each sector to develop an acceptable way to transfer allocation between them.
The most recent rounds of discussions took place throughout 2010, but they reached an impasse. In order to try and even things out a bit, the federal government recently decided to undertake a trial to make available to interested recreational stakeholders, experimental licenses that will allow them to lease quota from commercial harvesters.
“This will provide access to halibut beyond the limits of the standard recreational license, giving those who choose to participate greater stability for business planning purposes,” said Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, in a press release at the time.
However, Rob Alcock, President of the Sport Fishing Institute of B.C., said that he thinks the pilot program is a delaying tactic that allowed the government to get through the election window.
“I suspect that it is doomed to failure, largely because it does not address the fundamental problem that the original allocation for the recreational sector is inadequate,” he said.
Rob Alcock said that the B.C. Sport Fishing Institute’s charter boat members have said that the uncertainty caused by the halibut allocation model makes it difficult for them to sell trips. If they sell a trip and the season is closed arbitrarily, they likely have lost that customer forever. They also note that the bag limits that limit anglers to one fish per day, two in possession, discourage anglers from booking an exclusive charter.
~Written by Gina Clark