A story near to my heart and stomach-the theft of the right ordinary Canadians have to a common resource

Recreational anglers

deserve a fair catch

The commercial quota holder claim that they are putting halibut on Canadians dinner tables, but neglect to mention that they export 70 per cent of their catch to the U.S.

Readers of the Vancouver Sun may have noticed that recreational anglers have been getting increasingly concerned about the future of the halibut fishery in British Columbia. While I doubt that most people have given it much thought, the facts about the fishery might come as quite a surprise.

Our fisheries are a common property owned by every Canadian. That is our history and tradition, and we demonstrated our personal connection to our fisheries last summer when thousands of ordinary Canadian lined the banks of the Fraser River for a chance to catch a fish or two.

For the past 80 years Pacific halibut have been managed by the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IHPC), an international body whose mandate is to ensure that the halibut resource is managed sustainably for future generation. The IHPC does an excellent job and continues to ensure that both Canada and the US only harvest halibut at a scientifically sustainable level. The management of our halibut resource is not in dispute.

The problem, however, lies in how Canada chooses to allocate its share of the allowable harvest.

In 2003, however, then Fisheries Minister Robert Thibault bowed to a concerted lobbying effort by politically-connected commercial fishers and effectively gifted 88 per cent of Canada's annual halibut catch to 435 commercial quota holders, most of who had received their initial allocation for free. BC's 100,000 recreational halibut anglers were told to share the remaining 12 per cent among themselves.

To be clear, there was no auction or market test. With the stroke of a pen, the Minister simply created a policy that gave 435 individuals the exclusive right to harvest 88 per cent of a resource that Canadians' thought they owned. The quota holders struck gold, and proceeded to reap their newfound riches. Indeed, most quota holders quickly figured out that actually catching their share of the resource was a fool's endeavour and began leasing out their rights to others on a year-by-year basis while they simply stayed home and collected lease payments. In fact, only 130 of the 436 quota holders actually fished last season, and according to 2009 Ecotrust Canada study, "Today, lease fees are effectively charged on almost every pound of halibut quota in BC".

In contrast, the recreational sector has suffered. As the total allowable catch has gone through a cyclical decline, our sector's 12 per cent allocation has meant shorter fish seasons and catch limits that have been reduced by 50 per cent. This has hurt the businesses that support and equip recreational anglers and has meant that Canada's economic return on halibut has declined needlessly.

Naturally, commercial quota holders want to protect their newfound wealth. They argue that sport fishing lodges and guides that cater to wealth Americans are catching too much halibut. In fact, Fisheries and Oceans Canada's recent survey showed that the vast majority of anglers who use guides or lodges are Canadians from every walk of life who want to try and catch a halibut, but lack the equipment, boat or expertise to do so on their own.

The commercial quota holder claim that they are putting halibut on Canadians dinner tables, but neglect to mention that they export 70 per cent of their catch to the U.S. The quota holders argue that recreational anglers do not monitor their catch, when in fact lodges report accurate catch and length data to DFO throughout the year. This data is which is audited, validated and accepted by the IHPC. The quota holders say that lodges are expanding when in fact the province has seen 10 lodges close in recent years as a result of the recession and new fishing restrictions.

Commercial quota holders will always catch the vast majority of Canada's annual halibut harvest. Recreational anglers are by their very nature inefficient and do not catch more than they can reasonably use. All that recreational anglers ask, is that government amend its flawed allocation policy and give recreational anglers a few more percentage points of the sustainable harvest so that they can enjoy predictable fishing seasons and so that every Canadian who wants to, has a reasonable chance to try a fish or two.

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