Not a single pound of turbot has landed in Masset since the Department of Fisheries and Oceans turned it into a quota fishery three months ago, a union representative told Masset council last week (Jan. 16).
The lack of turbot has meant much less work at Omega Packing Ltd, said Todd White, president of the Masset local of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union. Between 90 and 120 residents of Masset and Old Massett had been expecting to work through December processing turbot, he said, and only traditional fisheries like crab kept the plant open at all.
Turbot, along with dogfish, is a relatively new fishery, Mr. White said. Omega invested in new equipment in 2004, which allowed it to process a couple of million pounds of turbot in the past year, generating approximately $600,000 in wages between October 2004 and October 2005, he said.
But in mid-October 2005, Mr. White said, DFO decided to make both turbot and dogfish into quota fisheries, at least temporarily, dividing the quota among 170 or so vessels.
"A quota holder does not have to catch the fish, but can lease it out to the fishermen who want to fish," Mr. White said in a letter which he brought to council. "This is problematic, because the very few vessels who were engaging in the fisheries now have to lease the quota from the rest of the vessels who will have a quota and have no intention of fishing it."
Mr. White said turbot is such a low-value fish that fishermen can't afford to lease quotas, with the result that no turbot has been processed in Masset or Prince Rupert since mid-October.
The UFAWU is now suggesting that if DFO wants to turn turbot and dogfish into quota fisheries, that one-half of the quota be allocated to the communities which have been processing these species, like Masset and Old Massett.
"We need to have a guaranteed amount of fish to land here," Mr. White said.
Sid Davidson, another UFAWU official, said the union is also looking for support from Old Massett, and that perhaps the two villages could cooperate in demanding a community licence.
Mayor Barry Pages said council is opposed to the individual quota system, and discussed the issue last year with MP Nathan Cullen. He told Mr. White that he will send the MP the latest information from the UFAWU, and ask for an update on the issue.
Mr. Pages was also interested in the possibility of Masset getting a community quota, and asked Mr. White for more information.