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REPORTING · 4th March 2011
Walter McFarlane
The Rod and Gun Club was packed on February 27th for the Halibut Allocation Town Hall Meeting. Ron Wakita, Chair of the Halibut Allocation Task Force began the meeting and Mayor Joanne Monaghan opened it by thanking everyone for coming and introducing the speakers.

“The purpose of this town hall meeting is to inform the residents of Kitimat and our neighbours in the northwest of this Halibut Allocation Issue, the history, the impact and the future impact it will have on our fishery if we don’t stop it,” said Wakita.
Paul Rickard, the main speaker who represented the BC Sport Fishing Association delivered a power point presentation on the history of this issue. “We have tried for 7 years, since 2003, to work hard to follow DFO’s process,” said Rickard.

He stated they had been in meetings with the minister, deputy minister, DFO and two round table meetings. The conclusion of all of this was being told to live with the division of 88% for the commercial fleet and 12% for the sports fishery.

He then said a week ago, the minister came out and stated the Halibut are not a common property resource owned by the people of Canada. “We believe, in her announcement, she clearly put it down right there. You are 88 and 12 and if you want more, if you want to fish for a full season, you can buy your own fish back. And who do you buy them back from? You buy them back from people who own it and we know they own it because we have to buy it. And in fact, you can’t even buy it, she’s going to make sure you don’t get to hold on to it, all you can do is lease it,” said Rickard.

He explained it is illegal to lease or use commercial halibut licence quota. To solve it, the minister is going to create a special license to solve this, although the fisheries act does not grant her the power to do so. He also added there is no notice in her announcement as to the end of the season. He estimated they will run out by mid August.

Rickard added more and more people are interested in fishing. There is evidence food harvested close to home is better for you, there is evidence fish is healthy and people are enjoying their right to harvest the food.

He explained this is not a small group; there are 300,000 Canadians who purchase a tidal water license. He even produced a document which stated fishing contributed more to the BC economy then bear and wine sales combined.

Rickard moved on to say this is not a conservation concern. Halibut is the best managed species of fish in the world. They are looked after by a joint commission called the International Pacific Halibut Commission. They measure the biomass and put information out it is a healthy stock of fish. Canada is allowed to catch just over 20%. The fishermen are not asking for more then this number, they are asking for their fair share of this catch.

He said they want Canada to have a healthy commercial fishery but they want to be able to catch one halibut for every three the commercial fisheries catch. He also pointed out the commercial fishers do not catch there 88% and the fact recreational fishers go over their 12% shows they need more allocation.

Rickard explained the history of the Halibut Allocation. In 2003, Former Minister of Fisheries Robert Thibault determined the recreational fishers had caught 9% of the allowable catch so he decided to give them 12% to allow them room to grow. He promised there would be no in-season closures and could buy, sell or trade to get extra quota. For the last three years there have been in-season closures and the free market of quotas did not work.

As catch monitoring improved, they found the fishers were catching more then 9% all along but the number stuck. Halibut Fishers asked for 20% and give whatever was left to the commercial fisheries.

“The problem is, we have totally completely held to 12%. We have a catch that is similar to the last couple of years, it’s a little higher, but by the time you take 12% of it, our share, it really isn’t appreciatively higher. We have been reduced down to 1 per day, 2 in possession, we have no idea when the season ends, we have a feeling it is going to be mid August and we are facing a total commitment by this minister to the fact that this common property resource is now privately owned. You want it, you buy it,” said Rickard.

Who do you buy it from? Rickard explained Halibut quota has become an investment. Commercial fishers do not have to fish and can make money simply by sitting in their living room. There are 190+ active commercial fishermen. They have to lease quota for $5 a pound and then pay for the rest of their expenses off the remaining $1.50.

“We are looking at the system and saying there is something wrong when someone who sits in their living room, leasing out their investment without ever having to go near the sea, can control the fishery,” said Rickard.

Finally, he explained the government is no longer certain who owns the fishing license as they have changed hands and some may no longer be in Canada.

He explained the quota system was introduced because the halibut season opened in March and commercial fisheries were taking chances to land a Halibut before the season closed. Now with the season ending at a randomly determined date, they are back to square one. He said they were asking for 2 per day and 2 in possession until the Halibut really become abundant.

Al Hummel got up next to represent the resident anglers. He explained the reason why he lives in this area is the hunting and fishing. They want to maintain this. “This policy is not a fair policy, it’s one where we need to get together and defeat. We need your help, all of you,” said Hummel.

Ken Fransen from Prince Rupert stepped up to explain what they were doing in Prince Rupert.

Dave Whal, on behalf of the Charter operators was next. He was impressed by the turnout. He said he was concerned about the privatisation of this industry. He stated the BC Liberals were looking at this and licking their chops wondering what else they could privatize.

“They’ve privatised everything they could see so far. ‘Maybe we can privatize water. The sky’s the limit. The air; we could privatize that! We could pay for that tomorrow. If they privatize this and you let them get away with it, watch out,” said Whal.

He explained tourism was the number 2 industry today and with the decline in the forest industry, it could be number 1. He explained they do not make money on the pound of fish unlike the commercial fisherman. They make money on the expectation of catching fish. He would lose his cliental if they came up here to fish and missed the season by a few days.

He added Alaska had the 2 and 4 limits as there were no less Halibut and the commercial licence holders in Alaska have to be there when the fish is caught and when it is sold unlike the rules in BC.

MP Nathan Cullen was introduced with a request from the panel for people to put their guns and knives away. He thanked the organizers for doing an awesome job. “It’s complicated but underneath all of this are some basic ideas on how this country is going to work and their competing ideas,” said Cullen. “Underneath this system, underneath what we are talking about here is a philosophy and a belief, about whose resource this is.”

He said the two philosophies are; it is either private resource or it a public resource. To be bought and traded on the stock market or for everyone to use. He said conservation has to be first. He believes this is a public resource and what works well on the East Coast should work on the west.

Cullen had a chance to talk to the current minister of fisheries. “She thought she was throwing you guys a favour when she said you can go out and you can lease quota. She really did,” said Cullen. “She said: ‘we’re going on the other side, offer the recreation sector a real privilege, an opportunity. They can lease them from the commercial operators.”

He said to succeed, the voices in the room need to start getting a lot louder.

MLA Robin Austin was next. He said this is a federal issue but it is the responsibility of the provincial government to work with the federal government and express their opinion. He read a letter to Current Minister of Fisheries, Gail Shea, from the Provincial Critic asking her to change the policy. He also encouraged the letter writers in the audience to write letters to Christy Clark, the new premier.

Rickard finished up with his power point. He explained the tourism facilities contributed to the communities’ prosperity and named several towns which have become tourism communities through fishing.

He thanked the Kitimat Halibut Allocation Task Force for being an inspiration and went through the next steps, town hall meetings, letter writing to the Prime Minister, friends for a Facebook Site, active on twitter, their website, and they need support from the anglers.
Paul Rickard explains the variety of issues and concerns to the crowd
Paul Rickard explains the variety of issues and concerns to the crowd
MP Nathan Cullen and MLA Robin Austin
MP Nathan Cullen and MLA Robin Austin
Monaghan draws the 50/50 door prize.  The winner, Sergio Amaral, donates it right back to the cause.
Monaghan draws the 50/50 door prize. The winner, Sergio Amaral, donates it right back to the cause.