Halibut allocation has to be re-worked

Discussion in 'Conservation, Fishery Politics and Management.' started by Sushihunter, Jan 27, 2009.

  1. Sushihunter

    Sushihunter Active Member


    Halibut allocation has to be re-worked

    By Jeremy Maynard - Campbell River Mirror

    Published: December 11, 2008 5:00 PM

    After several weeks describing my experience of adult salmon stock assessment on a local small stream, ongoing events suggest that I revisit the halibut allocation issue.

    Readers may recall that the recreational halibut season was closed at the end of October. This was two months early and in violation of an explicit commitment that there would be no in-season closures made in 2003 by the fisheries minister, Robert Thibault, when announcing the 12/88 per cent, recreational/commercial sharing arrangement.

    Even though adequate funds were available (I could devote an entire column describing where they came from, just one more Alice-in-Wonderland aspect of this entire issue), DFO proved incapable of leasing enough additional halibut quota from commercial quota holders to keep the recreational fishery going. Thus the market-based mechanism required by government to facilitate movement of quota when needed from the commercial to the recreational sector failed on its very first test.

    And it wasn’t a shortage of fish that caused this failure, because the commercial sector has left about three-quarters of a million pounds of halibut uncaught in the water at the close of its own season. This fact highlights once again that this vexed issue isn’t about conservation, it’s about politics, politics which unnecessarily restrict the publics access of the fisheries resource.

    The crux of this issue is the contention of commercial quota holders that in effect they own a large share of the resource, with the recreational fishery (i.e. the Canadian public) harvest reducing their share. With DFO having curtailed the recreational halibut season this fall in violation of its own management regime in order to sustain this perspective, coincidentally from the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) comes a judgment in a case (Saulnier vs. Royal Bank) which casts considerable doubt on this action.

    The broad scope of the case does not concern us here but Justice Binnie writing for the SCC said that “the fishery is a public resource” and “the fish, once caught, become the property of the (license) holder.” Both points are important but the distinction in the latter regarding when fish actually become the property of the license and quota holder is particularly germane to the issue at hand.

    If the only proprietary interest in the fish comes after they have been caught, what is it that recreational anglers are being asked to pay for in a “market-based” allocation mechanism? Government needs to answer this question quickly by re-working the halibut allocation policy in a way that works best for the Canadian public, for if not a legal challenge from recreational fishing organizations would seem inevitable.

    As a last thought given the current astonishing federal political developments, it’s worth contemplating what would happen if an NDP MP became the new Minister of Fisheries in a coalition government, however unlikely a prospect that may now be. My guess is that he or she would be less inclined to support the interests of several hundred private halibut quota holders at the expense of the Canadian public and be willing to rewrite the policy.

    Jim's Fishing Charters

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