As a native of Nova Scotia, I witnessed first-hand the privatization and demise of the East Coast cod fishery. The recent policy decision of the Conservative government regarding West Coast halibut allocation is the start towards the end of what we consider our right to a common property resource.
Rather than receiving a fixed limit per day and a fixed season, recreational fishers have been allocated 12 per cent of the Canadian quota. When the quota runs out, as early as August as some have forecast, the season will end. Coastal communities dependent on recreational fishing tell me they will be severely hurt and individual recreational fishers from Prince Rupert to Esquimalt will be denied their right to fish.
The Fisheries Act implies that fishing is not a right but a privilege granted by the minister. The minister has decided to grant 88 per cent of Canada’s halibut to a few individuals, many who do not actually fish themselves.
I believe that firstly, our federal government should purchase enough quota back from the commercial sector to provide for a basic limit and season that would enhance our coastal community’s economy and re-establish our citizens’ right to a common property resource. The recreational sector believes that limit should be two halibut per day and the annual season should exclude only the month of January.
Secondly, I believe that any quota owned in the commercial sector should be fished by the quota owner. Allowing halibut quota owners to lease their quota to other commercial fishers only adds to the costs of real fishers and does nothing to provide economic stability to the fishery.
I am not a halibut fisher, but I do know the recreational fishers of our community are not ready to give up on their livelihoods. It is time the government changed the halibut allocation policy to reflect best interests and the common property rights of the West Coast communities.
Lillian Szpak is the federal Liberal candidate for the riding of Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca.