The Council of Ha’wiih has set up a committee to consider what to do about the decline of the herring spawn in the ha’houlthee (chiefly lands) of the hereditary chiefs of the West Coast of Vancouver Island. It will be called ?aayaqa (When The Herring Spawn).
The traditional leadership and their delegates are meeting in Tsaxana, near Gold River, today and tomorrow to discuss an array of fisheries issues.
Don Hall, fisheries manager with the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council’s Uu-a-thluk fisheries department, said the spawn was spotty on the West Coast this year.
It was good in some areas, but most of the coast is way below where it should be, he said.
Hesquiaht’s Simon Lucas suggested the Ha’wiih consider a five-year closure of the harvest of herring roe for food and ceremonial use, in addition to continuing the commercial closure. He said the west coast herring stock is in dire straits.
Lucas remembered the advice of the late Tyee Ha’wilth of Toquaht, Cecil Mack, who said if the herring are knocked down, it will have an effect on every other marine resource. Mack was concerned for the ocean floor, which is fertilized by the herring, said Lucas.
James Swan of Ahousaht wanted to remind the group about the teachings around herring spawn harvest. Herring need absolute quiet, he said, so they are not frightened and go deep to spawn, which is not their natural spawning behavior.
He said his father would cut the motor of his boat and they were made to paddle to drop their branches in the spawning grounds to collect the roe and paddle quietly out.
The “education is not there on what we were taught, trying not to disturb the spawn as much as possible.” Swan said the new committee should consider how to educate the harvesters. He was also concerned that the commercial test fishery for herring was in operation at the same time as the spawn, and causes disturbances to the herring.
Hall agreed that the teachings speak of the quiet necessary for the spawn, but he also said there are other impacts, including upland development like logging and fish farm activity, and natural predators like sea lions.
He spoke about Lucas’ suggestion to close the home-use harvest, calling it a drastic measure. The current Nuu-chah-nulth food and ceremonial harvest amounts to less than half of one per cent of the total WCVI abundance, so the food and ceremonial closure would be a symbolic action rather than a way to recover the stock.
Others around the table were concerned about pollution; some historic, like the arsenic and iron that leached into the area at Toquaht Bay Marina and Campground in the 1960s, or the more recent fish farm development.
“Fish farms pollute. They pollute so bad that nothing lives underneath them,” said Cliff Atleo, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. He reminded the table that the Cohen Commission came down hard on the fish farm industry. He said the table should take some time to discuss fish farms, a difficult discussion because the farms provide much-needed economic development in an area struggling with poverty.
The Ha’wiih decided the newly established committee would discuss five subjects: the idea of closing down the herring spawn harvest for five years; working with municipalities to deal with sewage outfall and other issues that impact herring; fish farms; predation and returning the balance of nature through traditional harvesting of predators, and education of Nuu-chah-nulth teachings around harvesting herring roe.
It was also suggested that Fisheries and Oceans Canada be invited to work with the committee, to include the department from the onset in the discussion. Some voiced their distrust of the department, and their fear that DFO would assert itself and take over the goals and objectives of the committee. Still, it was decided that the invitation would be extended to DFO at the Council of Ha’wiih meeting with DFO the following day.