Halibut fishing ‘shambles’ to get an airing

Open house into the fishery has been organized by the guides and the Sport Fishing Institute of BC for Nov. 14

The head of the Campbell River Fishing Guides Association says the halibut fishery is “in a shambles” and he is hoping the public wants to learn more about the issue at a sports fishing open house here next week.

Association Chair Harry MacDonald says: “It is super important that the public get involved. The government has given 85 per cent of the halibut fishery to commercial fishermen. These fish belong to all Canadians not just the commercial fishermen.”

The open house, organized by the guides and the Sport Fishing Institute of BC (SFI), is Wednesday, Nov. 14 at the Campbell River Community Centre from 7 to 9 p.m.

MacDonald says he is expecting Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) representatives to be there and he hopes sports fishing enthusiasts and the public raise other issues as well such as “why they won’t give us any wild Coho to keep.”

One of the presenters at the open house will be SFI executive director Owen Bird. “Hopefully we’ll have a good dialogue,” he says. “Halibut allocation will certainly be talked about.”

The SFI – which represents the whole sport fishery sector, not just guides and lodges – was recently granted responder status in a Federal Court hearing that was launched by a group of commercial halibut quota holders who oppose DFO’s decision to increase the allocation to the recreational sector from 12 to 15 per cent.

The October hearing and judicial review in Vancouver before Federal Court Justice Donald Rennie was “an interesting one and very relevant to our sector,” Bird says.

“On the surface it is a complaint and claim by commercial quota holders who believe that the original 12 per cent allocation was set in stone versus DFO which maintains that under the Fisheries Act allocation can be amended at any time. The hearing and complaint allowed the judge to consider some of the broader issues surrounding public ownership of the fisheries resource … and the extent to which fish can become private property before they are caught,” Bird says.

The SFI asked the court to consider a number of questions including how it is that government can implement a halibut leasing model that transfers fish between quota holders who don’t actually fish to lodge owners or charter boat operators who don’t actually fish.

Justice Rennie has reserved his decision.