Commercial halibut fishers starting campaign to counter recreational sector concerns

Commercial halibut fishers from Prince Rupert and across BC are starting their own letter campaign to counter another one by recreational halibut fishers who are trying to convince Ottawa to give them a bigger piece of the halibut quota.

Commercial halibut fishers from Prince Rupert and across BC are starting their own letter campaign to counter another one by recreational halibut fishers who are trying to convince Ottawa to give them a bigger piece of the halibut quota.

Commercial fishers are claiming that giving the recreational fishery more of the halibut quota would mean that the federal government would be putting the business interests of charter boats and fishing lodge operators over theirs.

“69 per cent, according to DFO, of the recreational halibut is taken in by lodge and charter operators and 31 per cent is other…And what these businesses want to do is to take away some fish from my business so they can grow their business,” says David Boyce, a commercial fisher from Vancouver Island currently in Prince Rupert.

Recreational halibut fishers from across B.C. are writing letters to the federal fisheries minister, Gail Shea, asking her to use her power as minister to make changes to how the halibut quota is split between the commercial and recreational sides. Since 2003, 88 percent of the quota has gone to commercial fishers, and 12 percent goes recreational fishers. Now the recreational fishers are saying that 12 percent isn’t enough to keep the recreational fishery open past July. Boyce isn’t buying it.

“The protestations from the lodge and charter sector who are paying for the campaign to overturn the 88/12 are vastly overblown, and are inaccurate and disingenuous. They know that they are not telling the whole truth,” says Boyce.

The over the past three years the recreational fishery has spent over $1.5-million to lease enough quota from the commercial sector to make sure the recreational fishery could stay open. Now that there is no more to lease extra quota, recreational fishers want the government to take away the quotas from slipper-skippers: people who have a share of the halibut quota but don’t fish it, but lease it out for profit instead.

Commercial fishermen have a number of problems with this idea. Boyce says that the definition of who counts as a slipper-skipper is vague.

“What if a guy got sick and didn’t fish his license for a year, or if his boat sunk and he didn’t have time to get another boat so he leased his quota out for that year. Do you take that one away? It’s unworkable…It’s a provocative argument that they’re making, this vision of absentee fish lords sitting on a beach in Maui sipping pina coladas while these poor fishing serfs are out there slugging it out for nothing. But there’s not a lot of truth to it,” says Boyce.

Prince Rupert fisher, Alan Calvin, points out that after a career of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to be able to fish halibut, many people like himself are counting on the ability to lease their quota to others to support themselves after they retire.

Franzen agrees that there should be exceptions to who would be considered a slipper skipper, but says that the B.C. Wildlife Foundation considers the halibut to be owned by everyone and quotas are meant to be fished, and are not private property or retirement funds.

“I know they’re doing that, and that they think they have a right to do that, but the BC Wildlife foundation believes that that is wrong,” says Franzen.

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