P.E.I. halibut fishermen disappointed with lowered catch
'That was seen by the Liberal Party as being a political decision,' says DFO
P.E.I. fishermen will have less halibut to catch this year after a last-minute decision by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to redistribute the quota.
The decision means the Island's share of the allowed catch will drop down to 40 tonnnes from 46 tonnes — a 13-per-cent decrease — in a fishery that opens Sunday.
"We're still in a state of shock," said the chair of the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association's groundfish advisory board, Tony Carter.
"We're back to ground zero, basically."
All three Maritime provinces saw their quotas drop in the DFO decision Monday, while fishermen in Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec got an increase.
Reverses decision by Shea
This reverses a decision made last year by former federal fisheries minister and Island MP Gail Shea.
She took a new tack dividing additional halibut quota evenly between the eight fishing regions instead of using the previous rule based on historical landings.
We have a resource on our doorstep that other people from other provinces are coming here and harvesting and our own fishermen are standing on the wharf watching them.— Tony Carter, chair of the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association's groundfish advisory board
"It was fair because all parties involved were treated equal," said Carter.
"It's a Canadian resource for all fishermen. We all need to work and we were all given the same amount. I don't see a problem with that, but obviously other people did."
Parties involved in the Newfoundland fishery lobbied against the decision, saying it was a political move meant to win P.E.I. votes in the federal election.
The lobbying led to a review of the decision by DFO, which culminated in a summit with all parties presenting their point of view in Montreal three weeks ago.
Newfoundland and Quebec gain
Reversing Shea's decision means Maritime fishermen get 11 per cent of the catch, with the remaining 89 per cent going to fishermen in Newfoundland and Quebec.
Carter said that's not fair given that P.E.I. fishermen weren't even allowed to catch halibut in many of the years DFO uses to measure historical landings.
"A number of those years were cod moratorium years here that we couldn't even fish to create history, so other provinces that were able to fish … were able to accumulate history."
'A resource on our doorstep'
Carter doesn't understand why the new quota is being divided based on what happened two or three decades ago.
"We have a resource on our doorstep that other people from other provinces are coming here and harvesting and our own fishermen are standing on the wharf watching them," he said.
"It doesn't sit very well."
The six tonne drop, at $7 a pound, means a loss of about $105,000 for the 315 P.E.I. fishermen who fished halibut last year. Carter said it might not sound like a lot, but every bit of extra income helps.
"People tell me it gets their kids to hockey tournaments and stuff in the wintertime, and it pays some bills. It's just dollars out of P.E.I. fishers' hands all over again."
Reversing 'political decision,' says DFO
The Liberals made an election promise to review the quota-sharing change made by Gail Shea, and DFO was tasked with following through on that commitment.
"That was seen by the Liberal Party as being a political decision," said DFO director general of fisheries resource management Sylvie Lapointe, based in Ottawa.
After thorough consultation, Lapointe said the decision has been made to go back to quota sharing based on historical attachment to the fish, a method the department started using in 2007.
She said that approach was reviewed by an independent consultant and found to be fair.
"That [review] confirmed that that decision in 2007 was made without any geographic preference or bias," said Lapointe, noting that Minister Hunter Tootoo, in a spirit of openness, has posted the rationale for his decision online.
In terms of the concern P.E.I. fishermen are losing out on extra catch because of the years halibut could not be fished, Lapointe said that imbalance was addressed in 2007 with extra quota granted in lieu.
She said DFO intends to use this method of allocation in the future.
"Going forward if there are reductions or increases in the fishery, in the total allowable catch, that they will be allocated based on this allocation scheme."
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