Halibut fishery on the verge of collapse

Devastation and the collapse of the halibut sports fishing industry could be imminent if federal measures are not taken to accommodate recreational fishers, says Mike Hicks, lodge operator, fishing guide and area director for the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area.

Recreational halibut fishers are concerned with decreasing quotas.

Recreational halibut fishers are concerned with decreasing quotas.

Quotas devastating for recreational halibut fishers

Devastation and the collapse of the halibut sports fishing industry could be imminent if federal measures are not taken to accommodate recreational fishers, says Mike Hicks, lodge operator, fishing guide and area director for the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area.

“Two things will happen in our area, the halibut sports industry will be devastated and the concept of a common property resource will be demolished.”

Every halibut that is pulled out of the water is monitored in some way. The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) manages the halibut stocks in North America and decides on the total harvest of the fish which range between Santa Barbara, California and Nome, Alaska.

Canada has a quota system for halibut established in 1991. The reason was to stabilize the markets and increase safety for commercial fishers. the recreational fishers quota was deducted from the total and the remainder went to the commercial sector. But, what is happening now is that the quota for recreational fishers is being cut drastically, causing tremendous hardships for communities reliant on the recreational fishery. This includes charter operators as well as individual fishers.

“Individual fishers from all parts of Vancouver Island and throughout B.C. will be denied their favourite pastime and their access to this common property resource,” says Hicks.

In 2003, the quotas changed, giving commercial fishers 88 per cent of the halibut resource. In 2010 other changes decreased the Canadian quota resulting in a recreational limit of one/day and two possession, a shortened season and a purchase of 118,953 pounds of commercial quota. Now in 2011, the IPHC is recommending a further reduction of 19 per cent in the overall harvest rate.

This is the “worst case scenario” for recreational fishers, creating hardships on coastal communities and Canadian recreational fishers.

Hicks put forward a Notice of Motion at the Capital Regional District Board meeting on January 12, where he is looking for support from other coastal communities to get the federal government to purchase or lease the required commercial halibut quota to establish a permanent annual guaranteed base limit and season for recreational fishers of one halibut per day, two in possession, between February 1 and December 31 of each year. As it stands now, the halibut season will close in June or July.

“I’m asking towns to support me in this resolution to the Minister of Fisheries,” said Hicks. “I’m taking this to the CRD and hopefully the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities, every town to Prince Rupert should be behind this.” He also said he has no intent to harm the commercial fishing industry.

Hicks has done his homework and is worried because history shows that in Nova Scotia 100 per cent of the lobster fishery is commercial and in Newfoundland there is only a three week season for cod fishing.

“We could lose our right to go halibut fishing,” he said. “I’m going on a different avenue and am engaging at the lowest political level — communities. Maybe the mayors can help the MPs get going to fight for communities.”

The motion will come before the CRD Board at the February meeting.

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