Doug Kostering, our halibut fisherman just offloaded his first halibut catch of the year! Yum!
A 4th generation ‘Namgis nation fisherman, Doug started fishing with his grandpa when he was just a boy. And now, Doug is passing the tradition down to his children. His twenty-four-year-old son Matteo helps with the family business, and Doug sometimes takes his younger children out on the boat too.
This is Doug’s 4th season with Skipper Otto. “I like working with Skipper Otto,” he says “because they seem to be fair, they seem to be really caring about their customers and trying to get them a good product. Good product for the best price, as well as trying to be as fair as they can to us fisherman. It’s pretty good, there’s no hidden agendas.”
It hasn’t always been easy to offer halibut to our members. Halibut is a challenging catch for independent fishing families for many reasons. One of which is that the quota ownership system and regulatory requirements make it incredibly expensive to fish for. In 2016, lease prices were so high that our fishing families couldn’t afford to fish for it at all. Lease prices also artificially inflate the price of halibut for consumers. In fact, if you just subtracted the quota lease price, halibut would be about the same price as sockeye salmon!
The problem is something called Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs). ITQs define a portion of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) that any one fisherman can catch. When the ITQ system was put into place in the 1990s, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans gave out free ITQs to active fishermen. Over time, many of those fishermen sold their quotas to large, sometimes non-Canadian, corporations or investors. Unlike in Atlantic Canada or in Alaska, BC quotas can be bought, sold, and leased to anyone even if they have never fished or never set foot on Canadian soil.
Today, the owners of ITQs who don’t fish are often called “armchair fishermen” or “slipper skippers” because they own the rights to fish, but never set foot on a boat. And because these quotas are a way for investors to speculate in a global commodities market, and an easy way for criminals to launder money, the price to buy or lease quota has risen dramatically in the past few decades. If you want to get into halibut fishing now, your only option is to lease quota from a corporation or armchair fisherman. And those lease holders take 70-80% of the landed value of the catch. Sometimes the fisherman’s cut works out to only a dollar per pound. That’s not even enough to cover expenses, especially when you take regulations into account, let alone make a living!
Even if you can afford to lease a quota, there are regulatory requirements that make it very difficult to be a small-scale halibut fisherman. All halibut boats in BC must have a camera installed and connected to their gear. Whenever the line is moving, the camera is recording so that fisheries can monitor your catch and by-catch. These cameras cost about $10,000, and fishermen are required to keep the cameras operational at their own expense. This kind of expense may be no big deal for big commercial outfits, but it makes it hard for independent fishermen to make a living.
The challenges faced by halibut fishermen like Doug are a big part of why we started Skipper Otto. We want to see independent fishing families thrive, and we want Canadians to have access to the sustainable seafood available in our waters. That’s what a community supported fishery is all about.
Doug leases his halibut quota from his band at an arrangement much fairer than his other leasing options. His boat is tiny compared to most vessels that fish for halibut – a 35 foot gillnetter with space for just 1 or 2 people to sleep. This is compared to the average halibut fishing vessel that will employ half a dozen crew or more, and stay out at sea for up to 14 days at a stretch! A $10,000 camera for a boat the size of Doug’s is a huge expense for him, and it means he has to be extra careful about the weather and when he can fish.
Halibut is a deep-sea fish, so Doug and other halibut fishermen fish in the open seas between the northern tip of Vancouver Island and the southern end of Haida Gwaii. Doug is sometimes forced to wait weeks for a weather window that will allow him to fish safely.
Doug catches halibut with a method called bottom longlining. He secures a line with many baited hooks attached to a buoy and lowers the line into the ocean so the hooks are near the ocean floor. Then he secures the other end of the line to a second buoy. He leaves the line down for several hours before hauling it back in with a power line hauler, with the camera recording everything.
Halibut caught on a small boat like Doug’s is incredibly fresh because Doug can only be out at sea for a day or two before he fills the holds and needs to offload. He comes in to Port Hardy where he offloads his own fish using the public winch. There, a 3rd party monitor validates and tags his halibut in compliance with his quota before he loads it into a tote on the back of his pick-up truck. He then drives down Vancouver to personally deliver his catch to us at Skipper Otto!
After we weigh, cut, and package Doug’s catch, the beautiful, pristine, and incredibly fresh halibut is ready for our members’ favourite recipes.
Want to get in on the halibut catch? Sign up for a Skipper Otto membership by May 31st.
Sonia - May 28, 2019
Doug is Here with Our Halibut!
Sonia - May 28, 2019