Angry sports fishermen rallied Monday outside the Courtenay office of Vancouver Island North MP John Duncan, to protest the allowable catch for halibut recently announced by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Their message was twofold: the 88/12 per cent halibut allocation is a joke and they will never buy quota off the commercial sector.
Last week, Fisheries Minister Gail Shea announced recreational anglers will be able to catch one halibut per day with two in possession when the season opens March 1. Shea said the current sharing formula that allocates 88 per cent of the harvest to the commercial sector and 12 per cent to recreational fishermen has been in place since 2003.
Wayne Harling, an “avid angler” and retiree from Nanaimo, was among the 30-some attendees at the B.C. Sportfishing Coalition-organized rally.
“Shea is now saying you can get more quota, but you must buy it or lease it from the commercial fishermen, and the commercial fishermen never should have got the quota in the first place,” Harling said. “It’s a violation of the Fisheries Act, and it goes directly contrary to court rulings that said nobody owns the fish until they’re caught.
“Well, if you start giving quota — which is fish — to anybody before it’s caught, they’re not even fishing it. These guys are sitting in their condos and leasing it out to some poor schmuck who’s got to go out and try and catch them. It’s just not right.
“It’s effectively privatizing the resource,” Harling added. “It’s an attempt to extinguish the rights of Canadians to fish, which has existed since the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215.”
Courtenay resident Gil DiCesare of G&M Fishing Charters said the federal government is now charging fishermen for something that was free last week.
“They want us to buy commercial quota off the commercial sector, and that’s never going to happen,” DiCesare said. “On the East Coast, it’s illegal for the average Canadian to catch a lobster. You have to buy it commercially, and that’s what they’re trying to do here. They don’t get it. They never have.”
DiCesare said the government is accustomed to fishermen going away at the end of a season. This year, however, he promises things will be different.
“We aren’t going away. We’ve drawn the line in the sand this time and that’s the end of it.”
DiCesare said the automobile industry in Ontario — if it ran out of steel, for example — would be subsidized by the government to ensure enough cars could be made.
“Out here we get shafted all the time,” he said. “Our industry is huge. It’s $650 million a year, it employs thousands of people here on the Island. It’s three or four times bigger than the whole commercial fishery put together.”
For the 2011 season, the federal government plans to undertake a trial whereby recreational fishermen can, with experimental licences, lease quota from commercial harvesters, which will “provide access to halibut beyond the limits of the standard recreational licence.”
DiCesare questions who owns the halibut quota.
“The Chinese government can own half the quota, we’d never know about it,” DiCesare said. “That stuff’s worth millions. It’s a resource owned by all Canadians. They’re giving it away.
“The halibut stocks are the best-managed fish stocks in the world,” added DiCesare, noting Duncan’s take on halibut as being a conservation issue. “We only fish when they give us a total allowable catch. There’s no conservation issue. We don’t have a say. In an economy like this, a worldwide economy on the downturn, our sector is always growing. More and more people want to come to B.C. and spend thousands of dollars.
“And all of a sudden you want to say, ‘Sorry guys, we’re shutting you down.’ You want to grow a sector…You think this would ever happen in southern Ontario?”
DiCesare feels an 80/20 commercial/recreational allocation would be fair.
“Twenty per cent would be fine and leave it open-ended,” he said. “These guys that own the quota, most of them don’t even fish.”
Neither Shea nor Duncan were available for comment.