Fresh halibut caught on the North Coast. (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)

Halibut quota down 15 per cent in B.C. with more restrictions coming

Recreational fishers on the North Coast face challenges to avoid another early halibut closure

Fifteen per cent of halibut is off the hook this year, as quotas drop for Canadian fishers on the B.C. coast.

The commercial halibut fishery opened on March 24 with total catch limit of 2,402 tonnes, down from 2,823 tonnes. But the real challenge is for the recreational fishery, which started March 1 with a catch limit of 421 tonnes, down from 507 tonnes. This year, recreational fishers are hoping to stay within their catch limits to avoid another early closure.

“There were two losses: for those who fish for sustenance, to have halibut for the winter, they did not have fish. And the charter boats, I know the guys I talked to all lost a number of charters because they had September halibut charters and they were suddenly shut down with no notice,” said David Lewis, chair of the Prince Rupert Sports Advisory Board.

READ MORE: For the first time in five years, recreational halibut fishing closes early for the season

Historically, the recreational fishery for halibut remains open until Dec. 31, but last year, the catch limit was reached by Sept. 6. The only other option for charter businesses was to lease halibut quota from the commercial fishery. As a result, the International Halibut Commission reported 1. 8 tonnes, or 4,000 pounds, of the commercial quota was leased to the recreational fishery in Canada.

The drop in quota for the Pacific Coast isn’t entirely new, said Adam Keizer, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) groundfish manager for the region.

“There have been a number of reductions in the available catch limits coast-wide from Northern California to Alaska for a number of years. This is largely the result of changing biology of the stock,” Keizer said.

“We’ve seen decreasing size-at-age. Fish are smaller today than 20 years ago. That reduces the available biomass for harvest but also the stock had less harvest available in general, less productive in recent years.”

Typically, the International Halibut Commission meets annually to determine the catch limits of the year for Canada and the U.S. but this year they couldn’t come to an agreement and determined the 2017 limits would be remain. However, both Canada and the U.S. indicated that they would pursue lower catch limits through domestic regulations.

As a result, the annual recreational quota has decreased by 17 per cent. The Sports Advisory Board is working on a plan that involves smaller catch sizes to avoid early closures.

“The quota shrunk and we shrunk the size of the fish hoping that will get us through,” Lewis said.

The advisory board proposed to reduce the maximum size limit for the larger fish from the 133cm to 115cm, yet keep the size for the small fish at 80cm, and the regulations will still be for one fish per day, two in possession, six annually.

DFO hasn’t signed off on the plan yet. Recreational fishing for halibut reopened on March 1 but DFO is still deciding on a new set of management measures that will come into effect April 1 when the new licences are issued.

Rockfish concerns

On top of size reductions, recreational fishers may also face more restrictions due to yelloweye and other rockfish.

Rockfish live for over 100 years, and don’t reach maturity until they’re teenagers, Keizer explained over the phone. They are susceptible to overharvest because it takes them a long time to reproduce.

“The other issue, rockfish suffer severe barotrauma, much like the bends,” he said. “They suffer this because their swim bladder is not attached to oesophaguses.”

When they are brought to the surface, they can’t equilibrate the pressure — their eyes bulge from their head, their oesophagus and stomach bulges from their mouth.

“The department, for all intents and purposes, estimates there is no catch and release for rockfish. Every released rockfish is dead,” Keizer said.

READ MORE: DFO contemplating sweeping North Coast salmon fishery closure

DFO estimates significant declines of rockfish over the past 20 years and the department is working on a rebuilding strategy to recover yelloweye stocks. The federal regulator is considering zero retention of yelloweye rockfish and a maximum of three rockfish per day.

“Too soon too quick to do it. If they haven’t made a decision yet, it’s hard to put one on the table for April 1. Not everyone is going to be ready. There needs to be an education period,” Lewis said.

Commercial fishery

Not everyone is concerned about the lowered quotas. For long-time fisherman Sverre Hauknes, he said it doesn’t make much difference.

“Less fish to sell but in the scheme of things it’s not the end of the world,” he said.

He’s busy catching herring now, and doesn’t plan to fish for halibut until the fall.

For Haida Gwaii-based fisherman, William Davis, he’s starting to fish for halibut in April.

“It means less fish for all of us. I troll for salmon and that doesn’t look good also,” he said.

 

shannon.lough@thenorthernview.com 

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter 

Just Posted

Minor basketball cancels Grade 9/10 division for 2018-2019 season

PRMBA president said the association still needs volunteers for active divisions

Vopak expects 240 liquid gas-by-rail cars per day

North Coast residents can learn more about the Ridley Island-based project at the open houses

Bantam Seawolves looking to improve after exhibition loss

The Seawolves fell to the Terrace Kermodes 6-3 in pre-season action on Sept. 22

Open market connects Rupert vendors with tourists

An outdoor market was held in Cow Bay on Sept. 22 to help promote local artisans

BC Ale Trail adds Northern Trail to its repertoire

Breweries in Prince Rupert, Terrace to Valemount featured in new tourism initiative

Cops for Cancer complete 850 km ride in Prince Rupert

Bike fundraiser collected $195,400 for cancer research in 2018

Delivering the paper as a family

The Northern View is looking for newspaper carriers in Prince Rupert, join our team today

Edmonton cannabis company revenues more than triples to $19.1 million

Aurora Cannabis revenues more than triple in fourth quarter

B.C. pharmacist suspended for giving drugs with human placenta

RCMP had samples of the seized substances tested by Health Canada

Seattle one step closer to NHL after arena plan approved

Seattle City Council unanimously approved plans for a privately funded $700 million renovation of KeyArena

Harvest Moon to light up B.C. skies with an ‘autumn hue’

It’s the first moon after the autumn equinox

Hockey league gets $1.4M for assistance program after Humboldt Broncos crash

Program will help players, families, coaches and volunteers after the shock of the deadly crash

Canada has removed six out of 900 asylum seekers already facing U.S. deportation

Ottawa had said the ‘overwhelming majority’ had been removed

Most Read