Another View: Fish are a common property resource

Response to comments by G. Alex Fraser concerning Halibut

ecent comments by G. Alex Fraser of Fraser and Associates Economic Consultants (“Halibut Allocations Must be Fair to all Fishers”, March 4, 2012) not only contain some faulty economic logic, but also show a complete ignorance of the value of sports fishing as an economic driver in our province.

On a positive note, Mr. Fraser is 100 per cent correct when he maintains that, “Halibut, like other fish, is a common-property resource that belongs to all of us as Canadians.” And yes, he is also correct that recent lobbying has resulted in an increase in share available to the recreational sector.

However, his assertion that commercial fishers have made good-faith investments on the basis of the rules implies that the recreational sector’s investments are somehow less important. In fact, it is a given that the recreational sector returns many times the economic value to the province’s economy per pound of landed fish than the commercial sector.  The commercial fishers that purchase or lease quota to fish are not the problem, and are not the focus of the ire of the recreational sector.  Rather, it is the quota traders that were gifted quota by the federal government that have recreational fishers in an uproar.  These individuals or companies are getting wealthy trading a common property resource that they now believe that they own.

To suggest, as Mr. Fraser does, that some sort of free market based system is the answer to the allocation is just not economically valid in this case.  Any such scheme implies an “owner” recognizing the greatest benefit for what is being sold.  Last time we looked the Crown owns the halibut stocks (Mr. Fraser agrees with this) but yet it’s not the Crown that would control and ultimately benefit from such a scheme.   Rather, the quota holders would derive all of the economic benefit from this process, selling off their gifted quota to the highest bidder.

Furthermore, to imply as Mr. Fraser has, that “if recreational fishers cannot pay sufficient amounts to compensate commercial fishers, one has to question whether recreational fishing really is the more valuable use of the resource” completely ignores the additional economic benefits that are a result of recreational fishing in countless coastal communities.  The recreational sector spends millions of dollars on wages and supplies, and this spending multiplies many times through these communities.  The “most valuable use of the resource” must factor in the ripple effects of such spending, not just the price the quota would sell for.  If recreational sector businesses can’t afford to purchase access to halibut does that mean that their contributions to the economy are any less valuable?

Finally, Mr. Fraser’s assertion that an increase in recreational access would reduce the supply of halibut to consumers in fish markets obviously does not consider that fact that 85 per cent of commercially caught halibut is exported.  Again, this is one more way in which the full economic value of these fish is not being realized, at least not in Canada.

Recreational fishers are not against commercial fisherman, and are not asking for unlimited access to halibut.  We too want an allocation that is “fair to all fishers.”   It’s just painful to watch a large slice of the economic benefits of the halibut fishery get carved off to quota traders that never engage in anything resembling fishing.  The recreational sector needs to keep the pressure on DFO to reverse this privatization of this common-property resource before such privatization extends to all fisheries.


Christopher Bos


Southern Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition


Saanichton, B.C.