By Chris Hayes
SYDNEY — Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield is being asked to have auditors Ernst & Young do an external review of how Atlantic halibut are shared in the Scotia-Fundy region, a contentious issue that recently fuelled a protest by a group of Cape Breton fishermen.
The fisheries minister said in a letter in December the accounting firm has been chosen to do an external review of fleet shares for the Gulf of St. Lawrence inshore fixed-gear halibut fishery. The letter went out to stakeholders in the Gulf region, including fishermen in the North of Smokey Fishermen’s Association. Osborne Burke is manager of Victoria Co-op Fisheries in Neils Harbour, to which many of the fishermen in the association belong. He said Wednesday he will ask the minister to get Ernst & Young to give the halibut fishery in Scotia-fundy region the same scrutiny, either by widening the scope of the Gulfregion study or ordering a separate one.
“Recognize these fishermen’s concerns and give them the opportunity to present their arguments on a formal basis,” he said.
Fishermen demanding a larger share of anticipated quota increases in the Scotia-Fundy halibut fishery continued a protest in early February outside a Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada building in Westmount. The doors of the area office have remained locked since the protest had begun.
The fishermen belong to a sector of the fishery that gets two per cent of the total allowable catch for halibut in their region. Their portion was based on a 1996 calculation by Fisheries and Oceans Canada of their historical share of the halibut catch which Courtney has called flawed and unfair. The fishermen wanted a meeting with Ashfield, although spokesman Robert Courtney said he could also see merit in having an accounting firm also do a review of their halibut fishery.
Ashfield had stated in his letter that fleet shares for halibut in the Gulf were based on historical landings between 1986 and 2004. He said the Ernst & Young review will determine if Gulf of St. Lawrence halibut is shared the same way as other fisheries.
Burke said the protesting Scotia-fundy fishermen are also concerned about how halibut quotas were shared based on historical landings.
The fisheries minister should consider giving some additional halibut quota on an interim basis to the Scotia-fundy fishermen who are staging the protest until a review is done, Burke said.
The Scotia-fundy region extends from Cape North in Cape Breton along the Scotia shore and Bay of Fundy to the U.S. border. The Gulf region extends from Cape North in the other direction throughout the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the border of Quebec, which has its own region. Iles-de-laMadeleine is part of the Quebec region.