Halibut-tagging project seeks participants

Eric McCarthy
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ALBERTON -- The chairman of the P.E.I. Fishermen Association’s groundfish advisory committee says he is hopeful a halibut-tagging research project will help prove that Prince Edward Island fishermen are deserving of more quota.

Michael MacDonald said Prince Edward Island’s allocation is so small that fishermen who will be participating in the fishery as early as next week have the potential of using up their individual allocation with just one fish.

Of the close to 800 eligible halibut fishermen in P.E.I., 229 have registered to fish the Island’s 24.8 metric tonne quota, leaving each fisherman eligible to land 108 kilograms.

“That could be one (halibut) if you got a big enough one,” MacDonald acknowledged.

The P.E.I. fishery, MacDonald said, almost didn’t get an allocation at all, after nearly doubling its allocation last year. “(DFO) gave us an overrun as long as we came up with a plan that would allow us to keep from going over,” MacDonald explained.

Fishermen opted to allow all registered fishermen to fish for their share of the allocation rather than hold a draw and send a few boats out.

MacDonald said the fishery could start as early as August 31, depending on whether DFO conditions are issued on time.

The Island’s allocation is based on historical data, MacDonald said, adding that the data takes in years when P.E.I. was shut out of the fishery entirely due to the cod moratorium. Provinces with fewer licensed fishermen have considerably larger allocations.

“I heard rumours one fellow quit fishing; he got tired handling halibut,” MacDonald said of more generous allocations elsewhere.

If P.E.I. is ever to change its halibut fortunes, MacDonald said the P.E.I. fishery will have to come up with the proof that it is being shortchanged. “We’ve got to start somewhere. We’ve got to find out the numbers, that the fish are there, to start with,” he stressed. “You can’t argue if you don’t have numbers. You don’t have a prayer.”

That’s why he’s placing hope on a Halibut Life History and Population Genetics Research Project. The P.E.I. Fishermen Association is seeking four fishing boats and captains to participate in a fall halibut catch, tag and release project.

The project received $153,600 in federal and provincial funding, as well as a $49,000 contribution from the Atlantic Shrimp Corporation and $33,430 from the P.E.I fishing industry earlier this year.

The project requires one boat and captain each for Seacow Pond to Hardy’s Channel, Malpeque to Savage Harbour, Morell to North Lake and Souris to Murray Harbour.

Captains have until 4 pm. Friday, August 29 to apply to be part of the project. The P.E.I.FA will conduct a draw to determine the project participants.

“Hopefully, whoever gets it, they will be science-conscious and want to get some numbers and try to get some more quota for ourselves,” MacDonald commented.

The research project is being coordinated by UPEI Masters student, Travis James.

Pop-up tags, MacDonald said, will help pinpoint where the Island’s halibut stock overwinters. Fish harvesters will be rewarded $500 for every pop-up tag returned and will receive a small prize and a ballot for a chance at winning $1,000 for returning the smaller spaghetti tags.

 

Organizations: P.E.I. Fishermen Association, Atlantic Shrimp

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, North Lake, Murray Harbour

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