Updated: February 7, 2014 – Leaders of the Council of Haida Nation, the Heiltsuk Tribal Council, and the Nuu‑chah-nulth Tribal Council have united to express their opposition to proposed commercial roe herring fisheries in their territories of Haida Gwaii, the central coast, and the west coast of Vancouver Island.
“The Federal Minister of Fisheries, Gail Shea, has made a serious mistake in proposing to open commercial herring fisheries in our territories,” said Peter Lantin, President of the Haida Nation. “Minister Shea has taken this action against our specific recommendations not to fish herring in 2014. Just when the herring stocks in our territories were starting to rebuild, Minister Shea has proposed significant commercial fisheries that might wipe out the rebuilding that is underway.”
“We do not oppose commercial herring fisheries when there are enough herring to sustain them,” continued NTC President Debra Foxcroft, “but DFO and the commercial herring industry are proceeding recklessly by proposing fisheries in our three areas in 2014. There are enough herring in the Strait of Georgia and Prince Rupert area to meet the industry’s demand for herring this year. There is no need for DFO to open up our territories to commercial fishing in 2014.”
Commercial roe herring fisheries use large industrial purse seine vessels and near-shore gill nets to harvest herring as they prepare to spawn. The roe (eggs) skeins stripped from female herring are exported to Japan. The male herring and bodies of the females are a by-product of the roe fishery. DFO and the commercial herring industry have proposed fisheries in B.C. totaling 19,700 tons in 2014, with 4,067 tons coming from Haida Gwaii, the central coast, and the west coast of Vancouver Island. All three of these areas have been closed for several years by DFO to allow the herring stocks to rebuild. Seine and gillnet fisheries harvest herring as they congregate at coastal spawning areas in February and March.
“Our Nations have appealed to Minister Shea and the herring industry not to open herring fisheries in our territories,” explained Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett. “We have written directly to BC commercial herring fishermen, and ask that they respect our decisions to protect herring in our territories by choosing to fish in either the Strait of Georgia or Prince Rupert where herring stocks are abundant. We want to avoid conflicts on the water as have occurred in the past. We want to protect and rebuild this vital resource that so many other species depend on.”
Update at 5:06 p.m.:
The Heiltsuk Tribal Council today released its own press statement on this issue telling Fisheries Minister Gail Shea that the herring stock on the central coast is still too sensitive and would not withstand a commercial fishery. The Heiltsuk believe the present calculation of herring stock abundance is not accurate. While not opposed to a commercial harvest in the future, the Heiltsuk believe it should be subject to rebuilding and abundance in 2014.
"We write this letter to inform commercial herring fishermen of these issues. Our Hemas (chiefs), community members and fishermen have affirmed to DFO that a commercial herring fishery is not welcome on the central coast," wrote the Heiltsuk Tribal Council.
The Nuu-chah-nulth Nations have released an open letter to herring fishermen preparing to select their fishing areas in 2014. Because of low abundance of the stock in their territory, the Nuu-chah-nulth Nations warn that commercial herring fishers are not welcome in the WCVI.
The Fisheries Minister is considering a commercial herring fishery on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. The commercial herring fishery has been closed in the WCVI since 2006 due to low herring abundance. The Nuu-chah-nulth Nations have been trying to work with Fisheries and Oceans Canada on a plan to reopen the stock to a commercial harvest in the future, but the herring needs more time to rebound. This year’s opening is premature, said the nations in the letter.
The Nuu-chah-nulth Nations are not opposed to commercial fishing when WCVI herring stocks rebuild to sufficient abundance, reads the letter. The nations’ leadership want commercial herring fishers to be aware of the issues.
Nuu-chah-nulth Nations “request that commercial herring fishermen DO NOT select WCVI as a herring fishing area in 2014. If you choose to fish WCVI in 2014, you make this area selection knowing the risk that there may not be enough herring to conduct viable commercial fisheries, and that Nuu-chah-nulth Nations will continue to be active in seeking to protect WCVI herring.”
The Nuu-chah-nulth are working with the Heiltsuk Tribal Council of the central coast and the Council of Haida Nation (Haida Gwaii), which share similar concerns about protecting herring stocks and allowing herring the opportunity to rebuild in their areas. “We support Heiltsuk and Haida Nations and also urge you not to select the Central Coast or Haida Gwaii as fishing areas.
“We look forward to abundant WCVI herring stocks and orderly commercial fisheries in future years, and wish you good fishing in the Strait of Georgia or Prince Rupert area in 2014.
The open letter to commercial fishers comes on the heels of a letter sent by the Nuu-chah-nulth Nations to Fisheries Minister Gail Shea Jan. 29. The Nuu-chah-nulth expressed surprise and disappointment with the decision announced Dec. 23, 2013 to allow commercial roe herring fisheries on the WCVI.
The letter reminded the minister of the work announced last fall titled the Herring Rebuilding Initiative. DFO and the Nuu-chah-nulth Nations were actively engaged to implement a rebuilding plan.
“Your decision to allow WCVI commercial roe herring fisheries in 2014 undermines the progress that we were making and sets up potential confrontational situations between Nuu-chah-nulth Nations and the commercial herring industry that all would like to avoid,” reads that letter.
The Nuu-chah-nulth question DFO’s estimates of herring abundance on the WCVI saying they believe they are “inaccurate, unproven and need to be ground-truthed” before reopening commercial roe fisheries.
Last November, Nuu-chah-nulth Ha’wiih (hereditary chiefs) met with DFO and presented 14 recommendations regarding the Herring Rebuilding Initiative. The decision to open the WCVI to a commercial herring fishery ignores the recommendations and makes collaborative work with industry and DFO “more challenging.”
The Nuu-chah-nulth letter also warns the minister that the decision may also infringe on Nuu-chah-nulth fishing rights by government's failure to consult and accommodate. If the minister does not reconsider the decision to open the area, the Nations asked the minister to help notify commercial fishers of the Nuu-chah-nulth concerns and to ask them to avoid choosing the WCVI as a fishing area “if they want to fish.”