First Nations fight feds over decision to open herring-roe fisheries
Posted by Zig Zag
By Jennifer Saltman, The Province, February 24, 2015
Three coastal B.C. First Nations are once again fighting the federal government’s decision to open herring roe fisheries in their areas, arguing fish stocks have not recovered enough to permit commercial fishing.
It’s the second year in a row the Nuu-chah-nulth, Heiltsuk and Haida have voiced their opposition to commercial fishing of spawning herring and roe collected on kelp.
“It’s unfortunate that we have this again — the fight with the department and the fight with industry,” said Dr. Don Hall, fisheries program manager for the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.
The Nuu-chah-nulth are heading to federal court on Thursday to seek an injunction to stop the fishery from opening on the west coast of Vancouver Island. In early March, the Haida Nation will also apply for an injunction to stop herring fishing around Haida Gwaii.
The herring fisheries on the west coast of Vancouver Island, central coast and Haida Gwaii were closed for about 10 years because stocks were below acceptable levels, but Fisheries Minister Gail Shea decided to open them last year based on her department’s assessments, but against the advice of her staff.
First Nations and scientists questioned the science behind the decision, but were unsuccessful in convincing Shea to reverse herself.
“We were shocked they would open herring fishing considering what the numbers say,” said Peter Lantin, president of the Haida Nation. “The numbers still haven’t increased and there’s no indication that the herring stocks are rebuilding or on the path to rebuilding.”
Intense negotiations in early 2014 produced a verbal agreement between the Council of the Haida Nation and the Herring Industry Advisory Board to not conduct a commercial roe herring fishery in Haida waters that year. The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council was able to get a federal court injunction in February 2014 to successfully stop the fishery in their territory.
The Heiltsuk Tribal Council planned to take their protest to the water and to physically block fishermen from catching herring and harvesting roe. It didn’t come to that, however, and fishermen caught their quota in the least sensitive areas. The Heiltsuk will not go to court this year, instead continuing to try negotiating with the government and industry.
The goal for all three first nations is to convince the federal government to look at the evidence and keep the herring fisheries closed in their areas — herring remain abundant in the Strait of Georgia and Prince Rupert — until there are enough fish to support commercial fishing. They would also like to work with the government to manage the fisheries, which they believe have been badly managed thus far.
“Going forward we’re not against commercial fishing,” said Slett. “We have people who have made livings doing that, but we have that larger responsibility around stewardship.”
Herring — the roe of which is mostly exported overseas when caught commercially — are extremely significant to local first nations. Roe on kelp is a delicacy that is part of their heritage and traditions, and the fish is important to the ecosystem.
“It’s a very deep spiritual, cultural, physical connection to herring,” said Hall.
To preserve this important fish, they’re willing to pull out all the stops: negotiating, appealing, going to the courts and finally physically keeping fishermen out of their territory.
“Maybe it’ll take extreme circumstances to facilitate change and we’ll see how the rest plays out,” said Lantin. “It’s just frustrating because we did this last year. It feels like Groundhog Day.”
This year, the first nations also have the support of the union representing fishermen.
In an open letter, Kim Olsen, president of the United Fishermen & Allied Workers Union, recommended that commercial herring fishermen not select either Haida Gwaii or the central coast as their herring areas for the 2015 season.
“Over the last four decades access to fish and fisheries has become separated from fishermen and adjacent coastal communities. Continued disintegrated management on our coast is simply unacceptable,” Olsen wrote.
According to an email from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the 2015 opening is “based on science and follows the precautionary approach.”
It said forecasts have shown that herring stock numbers continue to support modest commercial harvest opportunities while meeting conservation objectives.