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Privatization of Resource Puts Public Fishery in Jeopardy

BCWF Press Release
February 20, 2009

Vancouver – “The decision of past federal Ministers of Fisheries to restrict the public fishery to a mere 12% of the total allowable catch (TAC) of halibut for the recreational fishery will result in significant reductions in limits and fishing time for anglers in 2009. This decision will have an immense adverse impact on the economic and social benefits derived from this fishery,” B.C. Wildlife Federation president Mel Arnold announced today.

“Considering that the allocation of halibut to public fisheries in jurisdictions south and north of B.C. are 51% and 20% respectively, we can only surmise that, by restricting the public¹s allocation to only 12% of TAC, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is deliberately and capriciously trying to minimize, if not eliminate entirely, the public fishery for halibut in the Pacific region of Canada,” Arnold warned.

“This is not a conservation issue”, BCWF tidal water fisheries chairman Ken Franzen pointed out. “At the end of 2008, there will be almost 1 million pounds of unused halibut quota left in the water. This is an allocation issue and DFO is determined to provide ownership of 88% of the TAC to a small number of individuals. That such a move is contrary to several Supreme Court of Canada decisions appears to mean nothing to this federal government”, Franzen continued. “The Supreme Court has ruled that the Minister and government lacked the legislative authority to enter into contracts with private interests for the exclusive harvest of a common property resource”.

“Already this year, while commercial harvesters continue to fish, we have seen a mid-season closure of the public Halibut fishery despite assurances from former Fisheries Ministers that there would be no such closures,” Franzen continued. “Based on the level of public harvest above 12% in 2008 and the inability, or refusal, of government to facilitate transfer of additional quota from the commercial fishery to offset this overage, we can expect reduced limits and fishing period in 2009. As previously noted, this action will have negative impacts on the B.C. economy and will also mean hardships and layoffs for many of the 7,700 people employed in businesses associated with the public fishery”.

“The aspect of this fiasco that is hard to comprehend is why DFO did not lease individual quotas annually and thereby maintain public ownership of the resource and provide a source of revenue for improved Halibut management and harvest information. Instead, the former Ministers chose to give away 88% of the TAC in perpetuity to commercial harvesters, many of whom no longer fish their quota but lease it to other fishermen and for considerable sums in some cases,” said Wayne Harling, long time member of the BCWF Fisheries Committee. “Requiring the public to buy or lease quota from these entrepreneurs who paid not one dime for their exclusive use of this public resource is truly bizarre. Even more bizarre, is the fact that DFO has now flatly rejected the only viable “market-based mechanism” identified by all sectors to acquire additional quota for the public fishery in accordance with Thibault¹s 2003 edict”.

BCWF president Mel Arnold concluded by stating, “For all of these reasons and more, our Federation publicly calls upon newly-appointed Minister of Fisheries, the Hon. Gail Shea to acknowledge that the Thibault allocation policy is unreasonable and unworkable; to recognize the public¹s right to reasonable access to their resource; and to establish a viable allocation framework that will provide stable, predictable year round opportunities for anglers and sustainable economic benefits for those who are employed in the public fishery and for the coastal communities in which they live,”

For additional information, contact,

Wayne Harling,
Phone: 250 753­1864
Paul Rickard,
250 748-9952

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