DFO fails Canadians with closure of the Halibut fishery

It’s much later in the season than it was threatened to be, but the recreational halibut fishery is now closed.

This isn’t a conservation issue. As Owen Bird of the Sport Fishing Institute of BC commented on August 26, “Halibut stocks are in good shape, very well managed in Canada and internationally, and there is a large amount, 2.4 million pounds, still remaining on Canada’s total allowable catch for 2011.”

The issue here is the allocation of stocks between the sport and commercial sectors – 88 per cent for commercial and 12 per cent for sport. The sport allocation goes to over 100,000 recreational anglers, mostly Canadian, and the remaining 88 per cent goes to 436 commercial halibut quota holders, of which only 156 go out and actually fish. It was the wisdom of DFO in Ottawa that created this situation, and now, by closing the fishery, which they said they would never do unless it were to conserve stocks, they’ve compounded their blunder.

Rodney Proskiw is the owner of the sport fishing booking agency Foggy Point Charters, and Fishin’ Rods Charters. “The shoulder season, from September into October, is a time when the operators actually make their money,” he says. “Up until then we’re mostly covering our costs. At Foggy Point alone we had 22 charter bookings cancelled immediately upon finding out about the closure, and then the phone stopped ringing with new business. As just one example of new business we could have expected, we’ve had to scrub fishing expeditions from cruise, one entire shore excursion program for the final calls by Norwegian Cruise Lines. That’s a loss of likely 12 vessel days at roughly $1,000 per day. But even without knowing what business we might have gotten, my two businesses have taken a concrete hit of about $25,000, and that is a major component of my take-home for the entire season. And that’s just me – just one guy.

“The ripple effect is huge and incalculable,” Rodney says. “Every business in town is directly influenced by sport fishing, from our gift shops to our hotels, fuel stations to restaurants. Everybody. And that’s true of every northern town from here to Edmonton and beyond. I had a couple who come every year cancel their halibut trip. They would have spent five nights at the Crest, fished for three days at $1,100 per day, processed their fish at Dolly’s, eaten every meal in restaurants, and indirectly bought all of my fuel, bait, ice, tackle, and so on. I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole trip wasn’t a $10,000 hit with airfare. And that’s just two people.”

How far does the ripple effect really go from the 436 commercial licence holders who control 88 per cent of all allowable halibut catch for the entire country – especially when almost 300 of those individuals just sit back and collect money from the fishery? “If you’re a logger and you retire, you’re done,” Knut Bjorndal said at a Port Ed council meeting back in February. “You don’t have a hillside in perpetuity. It’s very strange that the government did that.”

Rodney Proskiw stresses the same issue. “Neither I nor any other charter operator has any axe to grind whatsoever with the commercial fishery,” he says. “We want them to keep fishing and we want them to make a living, but we want the ones who are on the grounds doing the fishing to make the money – not the owner sitting in his condo in Hawaii. The SFI calculates that just one half of one per cent would keep entire recreation sector fishing through the month of September, and we know full well that more than that part of the allowable catch will remain in the water.”

Even before the closure, DFO stopped a lot of people from booking trips this year by announcing their intent and creating massive uncertainty. DFO created this allocation system. They had no idea how it would work. They didn’t allow for growth, and they didn’t even have accurate information to begin with. They’ve created a situation where a publicly-owned resource is being bought and sold by private interests. None of it made any sense to begin with – as just one example, when the sport fishery didn’t catch their allocation the commercial fishery was allowed to fish it, but the reverse was not allowed.

DFO has had years to deal with this in a way that was fair to both sectors and prevent this week’s closure, and they’ve done nothing. What is needed is a total overhaul of the system. This closure is a gross failure by DFO. They have failed Canadians, and failed Canadian communities. And they need to fix it right now.

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