Fisheries minister in hot water

If federal Fisheries minister Gail Shea thought her February 15 announcement on halibut allocation for 2011 was an end to the matter for now, she quickly found out otherwise.

If federal Fisheries minister Gail Shea thought her February 15 announcement on halibut allocation for 2011 was an end to the matter for now, she quickly found out otherwise.

In her announcement, Shea pointed out the 88 per cent commercial, 12 per cent sport fishing allocation for halibut had been in place since 2003.

“Since then there have been a number of attempts by representatives of each sector to develop an acceptable way to transfer allocation between them,” she said.

“The most recent round of discussions took place throughout 2010.  I’m disappointed to report that those discussions have reached an impasse and stakeholders have been unable to reach a consensus, Because of this, a ministerial decision is required to move forward for the 2011 season.”

That decision was that the Pacific halibut recreational fishing season will open March 1 with a limit of one per day with two in possession.

Saying the government recognized the value of the recreational fishery to British Columbians and the economic opportunities it provided, she added, “Therefore, for the 2011 season only, we will 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.” 

Looking ahead, Shea said it was in the best interests of all sectors to come to a long-term solution, With that in mind she had asked her Parliamentary Secretary, Randy Kamp, MP for Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission, to work with DFO officials to develop options prior to the start of the 2012 season.

The reaction from Kitimat’s Halibut Allocation Task Force chairman was explosive.

“As a Canadian I am totally disgusted with our government,” said Ron Wakita.

Saying the Conservative government needed to be held to account on this issue, he added, “We’ve got to make it clear was are as mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it anymore.”

As for the proposal that recreational fishermen can exceed the 12 quota by leasing quota from commercial quota holders, “This is privatizing the resource,” he charged. “It’s absolutely wrong that the owners of the resource, the people, have to buy off one of these commercial allocation holders.”

Wakita reiterated the point he made in last week’s Sentinel, that the Task Force had no beef with the true commercial fishermen. What they opposed were the so-called “slipper skippers”, holders of quota who don’t even fish it, instead leasing it to commercial fishermen.

Wakita said he would like to see the quota taken away from those individuals and redistributed between the recreational fishery and those commercial fishermen who currently had to lease from the non-fishing quota holders.

He said the sport-recreational fishery had made it clear that they want to see the 2 a day, 4 in possession limits of 2003 “returned to the Canadian people.”

What that would translate to in terms of the percentage allocation for the recreational fishery, “that we leave the biologists to work out.”

(That’s a reference to the fact that while the sports/rec fishery allocation is expressed in a quantity of fish, the commercial fishery is expressed in tonnes of halibut. Based on their knowledge, the biologists would be able to make the conversion.)

Shea also came under fire from the First Nations Summit. In an open letter to the minister the FNS said they were “absolutely astounded” by her allocation of halibut to the commercial and sports sectors.

Saying the decision and rationale behind it defied Supreme Court of Canada decisions, the FNS said those decisions, “have been unequivocally clear that following only conservation, aboriginal fisheries is a priority over commercial and sport fishing interests.”

And that included all fisheries, including halibut.

“Yet, while First Nations are seeking agreements through good faith negotiations, your department is shamelessly dividing the spoils between the commercial and sports fishery interests.”

And the BC Wildlife Federation joined in, describing the decision as “an insult to all 38,000 BCWF members and one that ensured continuing confrontations between her officials and “those who really ‘own’ the resource…the public.”