Area fishing charters have had to compete with unlicensed and permit-less charters that set up shop in the summer.

Area fishing charters have had to compete with unlicensed and permit-less charters that set up shop in the summer.

Unlicenced fishing charters a growing concern

Rupert resident and charter operator Terry Weaver voices his concerns with permit-less and licence-less charters operating in the summer

People have been making their livelihood from the ocean and its bounty as far back as humankind has been on the planet and still do today, but a disturbing trend has arisen in Prince Rupert that has affected area fishing charters and their operators for the past few years.

Unlicenced and permit-less boats and vessels have been taking clients out onto the water with or without business licences and have been abusing the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ fishing licence application system, said Terry Weaver of Terry’s BC Fishing Charters last week.

Having brought his concerns to city hall during a past Prince Rupert city council meeting, Weaver explained the predicament that he says is rampant in Prince Rupert and specifically with the Rushbrook Harbour.

The number of fishing charters granted business licences by the city is growing to an almost uncontrollable level and Weaver said he’s seen his business decline 50 per cent in the last five years due to out-of-town charters that operate in the summer months. Along with colleagues, the charter operator has gathered a list of 125 charters that operate in the city and that list isn’t anywhere near complete.

“Are we going to have 500? Is that OK? Because it’ll just kill the fishery like it did in Campbell River,” Weaver said.

“It’s just like the quotas like they’ve done with everything else around here with the halibut and commercial industry, it’s all quota. So personally I would like to see something like that happen where they draw the line somewhere because more than 125 are operating out here in the summer.”

Weaver appealed his case to city council where he met with sympathetic ears of Coun. Joy Thorkelson who said she has asked to see if the city could work with Transport Canada to inspect boats and then issue the licence and in her experience, only Prince Rupert charters bother to get one. Thorkelson recommended that the city could post a list of government-inspected and approved charters at the harbours.

“It’s been a problem for years. I don’t know how to get around that but Transport Canada should step up to the plate and bring inspectors up to Rupert,” added Coun. Barry Cunningham.

The main culprits, said Weaver, are Alberta-based as the Rushbrook Harbour is full of Alberta vehicles every time he checks. Upon asking the vessels from out of town if they’re chartering, the operator would tell Weaver he’s just with buddies.

“They do a lot of straight cash charters so there’s no documentation of any of it, but we see the same boats boating different clients every day down there … If anyone was down there paying attention, taking pictures and doing it every morning, it’s pretty obvious.”

Another problem is the online application for fishing licences set up by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), which is being abused by charter operators, said Weaver.

“People are printing 10 copies of [the licence], so they fill one out, throw it away, fill one out, throw it away. I guarantee you I know personally that that goes on … Instead of being only able to have six halibut in the summer, now they’re allowed 60. As soon as one licence is full they just chuck it and get another one.”

The DFO stated last week that printing multiple copies is not in violation of protocol.

“Each individual angler must have a valid sport fishing licence. It is not against the Fisheries Act to print multiple copies of the same licence. However, all fishers need to be able to record their catch on that document and adhere to daily/annual catch limits, and other conditions of that licence. DFO fishery officers conduct regular patrols in the Prince Rupert area to enforce compliance with the sport fishing rules and regulations,” said DFO strategic media relations advisor Leri Davies.

Transport Canada has stated that the organization will further look into Rupert, and who is/isn’t officially licensed as a charter.

“Transport Canada’s first priority is the safety and security of the marine environment. Fishing boat charters are required to be treated as a commercial vessel, and need to be registered as such. Transport Canada marine inspectors will be following up to ensure these vessels are in compliance with the Canada Shipping Act, 2001,” said Transport Canada regional communications officer Sau Sau Liu. “Transport Canada provides regulatory oversight and inspection services to all commercially registered vessels operating within Canadian waters.”

“I hate to say that I’m the only guy allowed to go fishing but there needs to be some sort of rules or guidelines,” said Weaver.