Early halibut closure angers local guides

Devastating news for local halibut fishery

A charter boat waits on anchor for the big halibut.

On September 5, recreational halibut fishers will be storing their rods and calling it a day.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has announced the closure of the halibut fishery on September 5 much to the dismay of some and the relief of others.

“The DFO has deemed that recreational fishermen have reached their quota,” said Mike Hicks, a charter fishing operator and strong advocate for halibut as a common property resource.

“It means a lot to a lot of people, charter boat operators, fishing lodges, “ said Hicks. “It’s absolute devastation in their industry. It’s not just missing a few days of fishing.”

What it translates to is a short halibut fishing season with cancelled reservations for charter boat operators all across Vancouver Island, and insecurity for next year.

“This is when the locals get a crack at halibut,” said Hicks. “The next two months are primo for Sooke.”

The reason the federal government has cut short the season is because they feel enough halibut have been caught by recreational fishers. In their system the commercial fishers gets 88 per cent of the quota with the remaining 12 per cent allocated to recreational fishers.

Fishing guide Steve Arnett says, “It sucks. What’s the reason for it? It is putting these guys out of business. When the commercial guys can keep fishing, it is hard on a place like Port Renfrew. They only have a four month window. It’s politics and that sucks.”

Hicks feels the coastal communities will be affected severely as they are dependent on fisheries so he will be trying to convince the mayors and councils along the coast to support a resolution he will be bringing forward at the UBCM conference.

In simple words, the resolution is that in years of low abundance the federal government should lease some of the quota from the commercial sector back to the Canadian recreational fishers to ensure fishermen have the basic bottom line access to one halibut per day, two in possession and ensure a 11 month season for fishing.

Hicks feels halibut should be treated as a common property resource, available to all. He feels our rights have been sold to private industry.

“They are going to privatize it just like on the East Coast, next it will  be crab and salmon,” Hicks said.

He said he is extremely disappointed in our federal representatives and they should be screaming.

“They don’t understand the issue, and it’s falling apart at the seams!”

He said he will keep on this issue until — “they tear the halibut rod from my cold, dead hands.”

On the pro side of the closure are the commercial halibut fishers who say the halibut stocks are the worst in 20 years and they are okay with the closure to recreational fishers. The commercial fishery will remain open until Nov. 18. In 2010, the wholesale halibut market in B.C. was valued at approx. $132 million.