Update Feb. 21 at 6:04 p.m.: Message from Don Hall NTC Fisheries Manager~ "Solid win." The judge has granted the injunction. No West Coast Vancouver Island herring fishery in 2014.
In a surprising revelation, a document provided by Canada in a legal action brought by five Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations shows that Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) supports the Haida, Heiltsuk, and Nuu-chah-nulth Nations’ view that there should be no commercial roe herring fisheries in their territories in 2014.
The “Memorandum for the Minister,” written by the DFO Herring Coordinator in Vancouver and signed by senior DFO staff in Ottawa, recommends to “maintain a closure for the three areas for the 2014 fishing season.”
Fisheries Minister Gail Shea overruled the recommendation of her most senior department staff, scientists, and herring managers in BC.
“The document is clear,” said Deb Foxcroft, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. “The minister rejected the advice of her own department, putting our herring stocks at risk of further decline. The minister had a clear choice, and she chose to reject rebuilding and protecting the herring that our salmon and sea life depend on in favour of a short-sighted commercial fishing opportunity demanded by the herring industry.”
“We've seen this before and it is a pattern that must be broken,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, himself a member and hereditary Chief of the Ahousaht Nation. “Indigenous rights and knowledge are integral to sustainability. Here we see that DFO scientists clearly agreed with the position of our nations that this fishery must not be opened until recovery is established. Ignoring these clear concerns is a recipe for conflict and destruction of critical resources resulting also in broad negative economic consequences for everyone. We will not accept approaches that lead to these outcomes. We stand absolutely firm on protecting Indigenous rights and resources and the only path forward is through mutual recognition and respect for rights and sustainability.”
“It is a shame on this government that we have to go to court again and again,” continued Ken Watts, Vice-President of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. “This is a waste of Canadian taxpayers’ money, defending a minister that ignores the advice of her own scientists and managers. We want to protect herring so that everyone, including commercial fishermen, will benefit when our herring stocks rebuild. Now we know that DFO staff agreed with our chiefs and biologists. It is unfortunate that the commercial herring industry chooses to ignore these facts for the short-term greed that they have to harvest in these rebuilding areas instead of harvesting where the herring stocks are abundant.”
The legal action brought by the five Nuu-chah-nulth Nations is being heard in Federal Court today, Feb. 21. The Nations are seeking to relocate the commercial roe herring fishery from the west coast of Vancouver Island into the Strait of Georgia or Prince Rupert area, where herring stocks are abundant.
A decision of the Federal Court is expected soon, as the herring are already returning to the bays and inlets of Clayoquot Sound, Nootka Sound, and Barkley Sound, getting ready to spawn and hopefully rebuild to sustainable populations.
The Haida and Heiltsuk Nations have similar concerns for herring, which are starting to rebuild in their territories, but which have not yet reached fishable levels according to DFO and the Nations.