Halibut Allocation Decision Upheld in Malcolm Hearing
Posted on April 14th 2013, by Sport Fishing Institute of British Columbia
We (Sport Fishing Institute of BC) told you late last year that a group of commercial halibut quota holder had asked the courts to review Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield's 2012 decision to increase the recreational halibut allocation from 12% to 15%. These fishermen believed that when Ashfield's predecessor (Liberal Fisheries Minister Denis Thibault) made his initial 88:12 allocation decision in 2003, any subsequent changes could only be made through a "market-based" transfer.
The SFI and the British Columbia Wildlife Federation (BCWF) realized that the outcome of this case could significantly undermine the recreational fishery. As a result, our two organizations decided to join forces, hire respected BC lawyer Chris Harvey Q.C. and gained responder status in the hearing. We were successful and last week's judgement by Justice Donald Rennie underscores the importance of our involvement.
Rennie dismissed the commercial quota holders' application and ruled that the Fisheries Act granted the Minister broad discretion to allocate halibut as he saw fit, provided that his decisions do not hamper his duty to preserve the fisheries resource. He also ruled that the Minister possessed great latitude to modify or reverse previous Ministerial decisions and even renege on his own personal political commitments. While this means that the Minister is able to reallocate fisheries as he sees fit, it also means he is entitled to make in-season closures to the recreational fishery, despite having made explicit promises to the contrary.
While Justice Rennie made the counter factual observation that the commercial halibut industry "was by far the larger industry", he nonetheless found that fisheries allocation decisions are political in nature, and that ministerial decisions regarding allocations cannot bind future Ministers.
We will take some time over the coming weeks to delve deeper into this decision and will report back to you on what else it might mean for the ongoing debate over halibut allocation in BC. But it is clear that our decision to join forces with the BCWF ensured that our interests were considered and protected by the courts. It is also clear that future allocation decisions will be made as a result of political pressure. While the courts have upheld the Minister's 85:15 reallocation decision, they have also made it clear that government cannot consider the move to be a "final" reallocation.
The SFI Team,
Sport Fishing Institute of British Columbia