DFO talks about halibut allocation with Prince Rupert City Council

DFO's director for the North Coast came to council to talk about allocation and other government initiatives for a sustainable fishery.

The North Coast area director for the DFO, Mel Kotyk, came to city council on Monday night to talk about the department’s new initiatives and policies meant to promote sustainability in Canada’s fisheries.

One of the more contentious of these policies is the change to how the Halibut quota is split between the recreational and commercial fisheries.

The federal government has decided to expand the recreational industry’s share of the halibut quota to 15 per cent, leaving the remaining 85 percent of this year’s 7-million pound quota for the commercial fishery. The recreational fisher’s share used to be 12 percent of the quota.

The government based their decision to expand the recreational quota on consultation with various stakeholders and the realization that, despite the allocation of 12 percent, the recreational fishery was probably catching more than that anyway. They decided that 15 per cent was a good status quo level for the recreational fishery.

This is meant to be a long-term solution, so the government doesn’t plan to be fiddling with the numbers again anytime soon. The government believes that the market will take care of any additional quota needs from the recreational industry by allowing them to more easily buy extra quota from the commercial industry.

“By making this change we are setting the stage for a long-term approach that will build on the prosperity of the recreational sector while allowing a market-driven approach for future adjustments,” says Kotyk.

The quota buying system works by a recreational fishermen buying quota directly from a commercial license holder. After the transaction is complete, the department issues what it calls an “experimental license” where the recreational fisher gets to fish that quota as long as the abide by the rules involving reporting that come with it. If they don’t use all of it they can sell it back to the commercial operator.

The halibut allocation issue has been a persistent thorn in the side of both the commercial and recreational fishing industries for well over a year now, and both sides have come up with many arguments for why the recreational share of the quota should be increased or not. Over the months, many of these arguments have been made to city council and sometimes by city councillors.

“We’ve had people from both sides come forward and give us different information and perspectives about the change of allocation. It’s had an impact because both sectors are important to our community…There’s been some tension about who should get control and there’s been conversations at the Union of BC Municipalities and stuff like that,” says Councillor Anna Ashley.

Ashley asked Kotyk to layout what exactly those changes will mean for the average sport fishermen on their boats.

For sport fishers, says Kotyk, the daily limit is still one with a total possession limit of two, which is the same as it was last year. But he says he doesn’t know what the impact of recreational fishers needing to buy extra quota from the commercial industry will be for this year.

“I did have some numbers with how it went last year; it wasn’t widely subscribed to. There was about 4,800 pounds that was transferred from the commercial sector, but by the end of the season only 200 of that was used. So I think it’s still  too early to say what the impact will be, ” says Kotyk.

Gina Garon echoed a criticism made by many people on the commercial fishery’s side of the halibut debate, that the monitoring imposed on recreational fishermen was not nearly as effective as the monitoring done on commercial fishermen, and that the numbers tracking the recreational catch are unreliable.

Kotyk disagreed, but did say that it was true that monitoring the recreational industry is harder than it is for the commercial fishery.

Councillor Joy Thorkelson, who is a member of the union that represents many commercial fishery workers in Prince Rupert, the UFAWU, says she is worried about the state of the commercial fishery in the city.

She said if the DFO and federal government were really interested in modernizing the fishing industry and making it sustainable over the long term they should consider allowing ocean ranching like they do in Alaska, which she says would take the peaks and valleys out of commercial fish supply.

Kotyk said that the hardships of the commercial industry in Prince Rupert is not lost on the DFO, but as far as he knows they haven’t been talking about salmon ranching as of yet.