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B.C. fishermen sue Ottawa over lowered halibut haul

Halibut dinner at Cactus Club Cafe on Sunset Beach in Vancouver July 26, 2012.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Commercial fishermen in British Columbia have launched a lawsuit against the federal government, demanding a judicial review of a Pacific halibut allocation policy they say is costing them both invested capital and annual revenue.

In a notice of application filed in Federal Court, Graeme Malcolm, who is representing all 436 commercial halibut licence holders in the province, panned the February decision by Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Keith Ashfield to reallocate 3 per cent of the total allowable halibut catch to the recreational sector from the commercial sector.

"As a result of the Minister's decision, 2012 commercial halibut licences are less valuable than 2011 commercial halibut licences," the application stated. "This is because a commercial halibut licence is expressed in terms of a percentage of the commercial allocation."

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Mr. Malcolm had fished for halibut with his father for more than a decade and, in early 2010, invested in the individual vessel quota system to the tune of $514,000, according to the application.

"His decision to buy into the commercial halibut fishery was based on the fact that, in light of the 2003 allocation framework and ongoing representations, assurances and promises from successive Fisheries ministers and Fisheries and Oceans Canada over the years … it was one of the best managed and most secure fisheries," it stated.

The total allowable catch for Canada is determined by the International Pacific Halibut Commission. First Nations have priority and are allocated about 500,000 pounds of Pacific halibut for food, social and ceremonial purposes, while the remainder of the total allowable catch is divided between the commercial and recreational sectors.

In 2003, then-fisheries minister Robert Thibault decided this would be 88 per cent for the former and 12 per cent the latter – a split generally deemed fair at the time given the modest level of recreational harvest. In February, Mr. Ashfield announced that woudl be changed to 85 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively.

To Sport Fishing Institute of British Columbia president Rob Alcock, 15 per cent still isn't enough for the recreational sector, which will likely have to close its fishing season early this year.

"From an economic perspective, it's devastating," he said of the potential early closure.

Sport fishing generates $1.2-billion of economic activity annually and accounts for 40 per cent of the gross domestic product for all fisheries and aquaculture in B.C., he said.

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Based in Vancouver, Andrea Woo is a general assignment reporter with a focus on multimedia journalism. More


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