By Andy Walker
FOR THE SOUâWESTER
Both industry and government in Canadaâs smallest province have called for changes to the formula used to allocate quota in the halibut fishery.
The presentations from the PEI Fishermenâs Association and the Department of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Rural Development were among 14 heard by Ernst and Young. The consultants were asked by Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield to prepare a report on the allocation issue.
The association told the consultants PEI holds 22 per cent of fixed gear licences, but has only 1.46 per cent of the Atlantic halibut quota. The group argued, âThe nominal allocation of quota currently available for PEI Fishers has set major limitations on our fishery. In 2011, we were limited to a 14-hour season including extremely restrictive parameters on the numbers of hooks to be used and number of overall participants.â
The current allocation format was developed in 2007, when DFO decided to allocate the resource based on historical landings. The association said that the majority of industry organizations, provinces and two third party assessments argued the allocation should not be based entirely on previous landings.
Prior to 2007, the competitive halibut quota was set at 250MT, with 125T available until the end of June. The remaining 125MT was available starting on July 15 until the entire quota was caught. Due to the migration of the halibut, Newfoundland and Quebec were typically the first to begin fishing. Atlantic halibut were available in the northern Gulf earlier in the year. In many cases, Newfoundland and Quebec would overrun the first 125MT available and without penalty. The association said those two provinces were able to fish the resource ahead of the other provinces and considerably build their historical landings numbers at the expense of others.
When the system was changed in 2007, landings between 1986 and 2004 became the standard. The association presentation notes PEIâs allocation was low since the cod moratorium was in place for 12 of the 18 years used in the formula. The current quota means the halibut fishery is now just 14 hours annually.
âThere has been a serious loss of economic opportunity for our PEI fishers, their families and communities because of this decision,â the association said. âCurrently, PEI fishers are at a disadvantage with buyers as they are unable to produce fresh product for more than one day a year.â
The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) has increased to 720 MT in 2011 and recently another formula (other than solely using historical landings) was used. In 2010, the increased catch was announced by the Federal Minister of Fisheries, and this new catch was distributed equally amongst the fixed gear fleets.
âAlthough this was not equal provincial shares, this arrangement opened the door for southern Gulf halibut fishermen to access slightly more halibut,â the association noted. âThe abundance of the halibut stock has been trending in a positive direction over the past number of years as reported in the DFO Science Advisory Report 2011/12 on Atlantic Halibut in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.â
The industry group said Island fishermen have documented an increase in halibut and âIt is critical that DFO recognize the importance of further scientific research on such an important species and the need to dedicate adequate funding towards research particularly in the Southern Gulf region.â
The Fishermenâs Association recommends the formula used before 2007 be reinstated. That involved a split of provincial and historical landing shares on the original 250MT. The remainder of the catch was split evenly between the five eastern provinces.
âWe must reconcile past inequities and allow all provinces to move forward on a fair and consistent basis,â the association concludes. âIt is critical that fishers in all geographic areas of the Gulf of St. Lawrence be economically viable and benefit from the increasing availability of this key resource.â
Meanwhile, the provincial department argued the fishery is a national resource and its allocation should not be at the total discretion of the federal minister. The department officials told the consultants âAllocations are often subject to lobbying and political pressure. It would also appear that decisions around total allowable catch allocations were not made using a uniform set of criteria. The allocation decisions made for one species using a set of criteria were not necessarily the same criteria used to set allocations for another species.â
The department also argues that many of the fishers bought out by the federal governmentâs Atlantic Groundfish Strategy were from Quebec and Newfoundland. PEI argues the catch history should have been retired with the vessel buyout.
The province praised Gail Shea for allocating new access evenly among the eight fleets when she was federal fisheries minister in May of 2011. However, the Egmont MP was moved to national revenue in a cabinet shuffle a month later and her successor, Keith Ashfield, has since reverted to the historical allocation formula.
âThe province of Prince Edward Island supports a split formula, which respects historical shares based on the original TAC (at a threshold level), however further allocations based on fairness and equity,â the presentation notes. âIn our opinion, in the case of Atlantic Halibut, this is clearly not apparent.â
Prince Edward Island proposes that the current sharing arrangement stay in place when the quota is at or below 250 metric tonnes. When the quota rises above 250 metric tonnes, any increase must be split equally between provinces.