Halibut campaign gains momentum

The recently formed Kitimat Halibut Task Force campaign against Ottawa’s current catch allocation for the fish cranks up another notch on Sunday, February 27.

The recently formed Kitimat Halibut Task Force campaign against Ottawa’s current catch allocation for the fish cranks up another notch on Sunday, February 27.

That’s when it is holding a public forum to be attended by representatives the Sports Fishing Institute.

And Ron Wakita, chairman of the task force, is trying to land an even bigger fish when it comes to speakers.

He explained that since the recreational fishing sector has been getting nowhere with the Fisheries minister, he has sent an invitation her boss, prime minister Stephen Harper to attend the forum.

He has even offered to pay Harper’s airfare from Ottawa.

Wakita said the problem goes back to 2003 when the current allocation was made: 88 per cent of halibut catch to the commercial fishery, 12 per cent to recreational.

But he pointed out that when the recreation fishery questioned whether 12 per cent was enough, the Fisheries minister of the day said the DFO would devise a mechanism that allowed for growth in the recreational/sports fishery.

Not only had that not happened, there had been reductions in the daily catch/possession limits in both 2008 and 2009 and last year there had been an October in-season closure of the recreational halibut fishery.

And this year it is going to be worse.

Wakita explained that when the final catch numbers came in for last season, they showed the recreational fishery had actually exceeded its quota.

“So we’re in a pay back situation for 2011,” he added – and therefore certain to face an in-season closure this year, possibly as early as mid-summer.

“If we go to a one-a-day, one in possession limit, we can extend the season into August. If we go to a one-a-day, two in possession, we’ll close in July.”

Wakita pointed out that the peak season for halibut in terms of the inner channel waters is August when all the chum and pink salmon carcasses are being flushed out of the Kitimat River.

Therefore that was also the best time for small boats to go after the halibut because they were close in.

Wakita emphasized the Task Force was not anti-commercial fishermen. “We recognize the commercial fishermen who has an allocation licence and he fishes that allocation and feeds his family – that’s his livelihood.”

But it what it did object too strenuously is that there are commercial quota holders who never fish it: they simply lease their quota, “making millions of dollars off a Canadian common resource…and at the expense of all the rest of the Canadian population who are potentially recreational fishermen.”