DFO shuts down herring row fishery, citing First Nations reconciliation
by Randy Shore, Vancouver Sun, March 3, 2018
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has agreed to cancel this year’s commercial roe herring fishery on B.C.’s central coast, citing the federal government’s commitment to reconciliation with First Nations.
The Heiltsuk First Nation and DFO officials were unable to come to a “shared understanding” about the health of the local herring stock.
Herring biomass — a measure of health and abundance — has “flatlined” on the central coast, said Kelly Brown, director of the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department.
Co-management of the fishery must take into account the “Heiltsuk’s traditional knowledge of the ecosystem,” according to the announcement.
The DFO also noted the “risk of being unable to ensure orderly and well-managed fisheries” in agreeing to suspend the licensed commercial roe herring fishery in the region for 2018.
“It’s the first time (DFO) has considered Heiltsuk traditional knowledge,” said Brown. “This is a really big deal for us.”
The Heiltsuk will be allowed a limited spawn fishery for food, ceremonial and commercial purposes as part of the agreement.
DFO has allocated “600 short tons for First Nations food, social and ceremonial purposes and 1,265 short tons for commercial spawn-on-kelp,” according to a department spokesperson.
“This represents a very precautionary approach for the coming season, consistent with sound environmental management practices, that will support continued rebuilding of central coast herring stocks.”
In the past, DFO has not allowed a First Nation commercial spawn fishery unless a licensed commercial roe fishery was also allowed, Brown said.
Herring roe is a traditional food source for many coastal First Nations. It is typically harvested on kelp and on hemlock boughs placed in the water when the fish are spawning.
“We’ve been concerned with the decline in several of the traditional spawning areas that have been depleted to no spawn at all,” he said. “In the old days, they used to spawn right in front of our village, but now it’s really spotty and it’s not enough to depend on for (food).”
The First Nation, based in Bella Bella, has been fighting for decades for more control over the herring fishery, which has been shut down for years at a time since the early 1970s due to low abundance.
The stage was set for co-management of the fishery in a 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision that recognized the Heiltsuk First Nation’s right to trade in herring.
“We’ve been negotiating for collaborative management ever since,” said Brown.
Brown and Chief Marilyn Slett occupied DFO offices for four days in 2015 and then convinced the department to agree to a reduced commercial herring fishery in 2016, but this year’s roe fishery closure based on principles of reconciliation is unprecedented.