The Experimental Halibut Quota Leasing Scheme – Is It good for the Future of Our Fishery?
In 2003, under pressure from the commercial halibut fleet to limit the public harvest of halibut, then Minister Thibault announced his intention to create and assign quota to the public fishery as well as the commercial fleet. In spite of considerable debate and contrary to advice offered by the SFAB, the minister settled on the infamous 8812 allocation split, gifting access to 88% of Canada’s halibut resource to roughly 400 individuals while limiting the rest of Canadians to 12%.
After nearly a decade of debate and several failed attempts to implement what was a flawed and unfair policy, the recreational sector walked away from the Halibut Allocation Policy implementation process, and in 2010 and 2011 embarked on a significant public education and lobby effort in order to inform the public of the basic lack of fairness in the policy, and to illustrate how it had the potential to turn a common property resource, intended to benefit all Canadians, into private property designed to enrich a few select individuals.
In 2011 DFO announced that it would reallocate 3% of the total allowable catch back to the public, thereby creating the allocation split of 8515 that the recreational fishery still struggles to realize its social and economic potential within today.
Coincidentally with the reallocation decision Minister Ashfield also decreed that a market based transfer mechanism must be created to allow for trade of quota between the sectors. This was intended to appease commercial interests and allow for additional transfer to happen over time and in the future. The mechanism proved difficult to arrange but bound by the Minister’s decision, in 2011 DFO announced a “pilot experimental fishery program or XRQ” whereby interested individuals or businesses could lease quota from commercial quota holders to allow them to fish “outside” of the regulations required by tidal water recreational licence holders. This experimental licence did not provide opportunity for either sector to acquire or sell quota but only to lease it. The XRQ has created a two tiered, hybrid “commercialrecreational” fishery where the BC sport fishing regulations don’t apply and, due to expense and limited DFO resources, XRQ licences are not properly monitored or enforced.
In 2012, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada confirmed that the experimental licence
would continue to be available and announced the Department was moving forward with a
regulatory proposal. That regulatory proposal is still under the formal review process and hasn’t received final approval.
Based on the most recent information available, in 2016 a total of 97 licenses were issued, 67 of which were carried over from the previous season, and a total of 8,653 pounds of halibut quota was transferred from the commercial sector to experimental licence holders, of which 5,082 pounds of halibut has been reported caught.
Since its inception, the Sport Fishing Advisory Board, The Sport Fishing Institute of BC, and the BC Wildlife federation have strongly opposed this program.
Why do anglers and angling organizations oppose this program?
One of the fundamental principles that underlies the continued access of the public to fishery resources in BC is the concept of common property. In this context, fishery resources are owned by the people of Canada, and are managed by the federal government for the benefit of all Canadians.
It is through the application of common property rights that you and your fellow anglers still continue to enjoy relatively unfettered access to both fishery and wildlife resources in Canada. This is not the case in other countries where these resources can be privately owned and managed for the benefit of the landowner or quota holder. Access to fishing and hunting in these areas is highly restricted, and typically comes with a very hefty fee to the resource owner.
The commercial sector has made significant legal and political challenges to common property management in Canada. A segment of the sector expressed their desire to outright own what they perceive to be their share of halibut (as defined by their ITQ) for eternity regardless of how they acquired their quota. Many current quota holders were gifted their quota by the government of Canada, no longer actively fish, and generate a healthy annual income from this gift by leasing their quota out to active commercial fishermen. Remember, the actual management cost of maintaining the resource and ensuring sustainable fisheries are borne largely by Canadian tax payers.
Fortunately, in 2014 the Supreme Court of Canada rejected this notion in the Malcolm Case thereby confirming the legal right of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to reallocate and manage fishery resources in an unfettered manner on behalf of all Canadians. It is worth noting that both the SFI and BCWF spent $70,000.00 to act as respondents on behalf of all recreational fishermen in this case.
That doesn’t mean that our fishery still can’t be managed by quotas as we see in the case of halibut! It means that quotas are not considered private property, and can be adjusted at the will of the Minister. The commercial sector still actively pressures DFO to impose more quota based regimes in all fisheries, especially in ground fish fisheries, and most currently in the yelloweye fishery.
Based on our experience with halibut, it’s easy to see that quota based management is not the most effective or fair way to manage a public access fishery with over 300,000 participants. The quota allocation process did not take into account the economic and social value of the recreational fishery. Assigned quota has been significantly less than required to allow the fishery to achieve its potential.
By participating in this leasing scheme, anglers and businesses are demonstrating de-facto support of the concept of quota based fisheries, and in fact are lending support to the idea that making the halibut experimental halibut fishery a permanent fixture on our coast – with the potential to be expanded to other fisheries – is something that could or even should become a reality.
It should be clear to any angler, lodge, charter operator or guide that the expansion of quota based fisheries to other species poses a significant threat to the future growth of our fishery, and the relatively stable opportunities we currently enjoy for most species. The halibut experimental fishery is still in the formal regulatory review process, and does have the strong potential to fail that review process. Although the amount of catch transferred on an annual basis is insignificant compared to the annual recreational TAC, the fact that the fishery is still being considered for permanent regulation implies there is a strong lobby at play to make this program something that can potentially be expanded upon. Failure of this program will clearly demonstrate that recreational fishermen in BC do not support quota based management expanding to other areas of their fishery.
You can have confidence that the SFI and other organizations who advocate for our fishery in Ottawa will continue to play their part in opposing this unfair and dangerous scheme, but we also need you to support us by not participating in it!
It is in all our best interests to ensure that we support the concept of common property management of fishery resources in Canada. And, that we recognize and value how important the access we currently enjoy is to the health of our fishery and the health of the businesses that support it.
We appreciate your support, please contact us at your convenience with any questions or concerns.