A standing room only crowd of more than 300 filled the Kitimat Rod and Gun for the February 27 local Halibut Allocation Task Force forum.
But it’s not just Kitimat that is outraged at the refusal of federal Fisheries minister Gail Shea to increase the sport fishery allocation of halibut and telling them if they wanted more, they had to buy it from the commercial fishery, says task force chairman Ron Wakita.
Those attending the forum included people from Terrace, Prince Rupert and Smithers – and eve a couple of commercial fishermen.
“The lobby is huge now,” he said, adding it had spread into Alberta and was steadily moving eastward.
“The goal now is to send a wave, west to east, and get the message to Ottawa loud and clear,” Wakita explained.
And he had a bold prediction: “I suspect there will be a minister change or a change in policy in the near future.”
Wakita said the plan now was to continue with the letter writing campaign to prime minister Stephen Harper and increase the involvement of communities along Highway 16 – which may include task force members speaking at Rod and Gun clubs and the like in those communities.
They also want to get the 20 to 30-year-olds involved in a texting campaign to spread the word. “They can text faster than I can speak,” Wakita joked.
Out-of-town supporters will also be urged to write letters to the editor of their local newspaper.
“Usually in every small town subscribers to its newspaper read letters to the editor,” he explained.
And the task force is determined to make this an issue in the next federal election.
“They (the Conservative government) assumed the silent majority would remain silent,” Wakita said, adding the task force intended to proven them wrong.
In terms of where the First Nations fit into all this, Wakita was clear: “First Nations is a higher priority”, explaining the order of priority is conservation first, then First Nations, then the commercial/sports fisheries.
Again emphasizing the task force had no quarrel with commercial quota holders who actually fished it, Wakita said, “They perform an essential service getting a Canadian resource from sea to market and we fully support their rights to make a living and feed their families.”
He added the task force believes that those fishermen are also going to suffer the effects of “this dysfunctional policy”.
Wakita said the effect of the policy announced by Shea means the commercial and sport/recreational fisheries are simply being pitted against each other.