Coast Tsimshian people are opposing DFO’s decision to open the commercial fishery for herring roe on kelp. (Greg Schechter/Flickr)

Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla oppose commercial herring fishery

First Nations band said their demonstration against DFO will only grow until a new plan is hatched

Commercial fishing of herring and herring roe has stirred opposition across the coast.

To allow herring stocks to recover, Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla said they are opposing a Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) commercial opening for spawn on kelp from March 22-May 1.

Lax Kw’alaams shared a press release on March 25 stating that members will hold a large demonstration in waters off Prince Rupert.

“The Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla councils, technical staff, and membership all agree the herring stocks within the Prince Rupert district are too small and do not support commercial herring or herring roe fisheries,” said Lax Kw’alaams Mayor John Helin. “Yet DFO is still allowing one licensed boat, owned by a non-Indigenous individual, to fish until May 1.”

The First Nations band is stating that DFO went against local knowledge and advice from both Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla.

DFO said they are confident that numbers are stable enough for a limited opening for spawn-on-kelp on the North Coast as a part of the approved 2019 Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP) for herring.

“Stocks in the Prince Rupert District are at a lower level of abundance but are stable and can support this limited fishery,” DFO spokesperson, Michelle Rainer, said in an email.

DFO said it held a 30-day consultation period with all concerned area First Nations before finalizing the IFMP.

But until DFO agrees on a new plan for herring, Lax Kw’alaams said the demonstration will continue and “will only grow larger in the coming days.”

READ MORE: Health tips from officials as herring egg harvest opens on Vancouver Island

Helin said their well being is tied to the environment and the health of herring stocks.

“For many years, our food, social, and ceremonial needs have not been met for herring eggs or for the many fish species that depend on it. Our people need the opportunity to provide their families this most valuable food.”

Opposition stirred earlier in the Strait of Georgia where the roe herring fishery opened on March 9. DFO approved of catching 20 per cent of the herring in the area, but conservation organizations, such as Pacific Wild, are saying this number is too high and they’re calling for a closure of B.C.’s herring fishery.

NDP fisheries critic, Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns, is on board with a moratorium. He brought the matter to the House of Commons in February stating the importance herring have for sustaining chinook salmon and southern resident killer whales.

“I’m quite supportive of what Mr. Johns has been doing in trying to put conservation first and understand that if you pull out one of the legs of the table and wipe out any herring stocks, then it’s almost impossible for the other species, like salmon and orcas, to recover,” said Nathan Cullen, Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP.

READ MORE: Opponents want federal government to shut down roe herring fishery

DFO released a North Coast herring update on March 27 and observed 4,500-5,000 tonnes of stocks in Area 5, Kitkatla, and a total estimate of 10,000 tonnes in Area 4, Big Bay.

On Haida Gwaii, no spawn events have been found in some of the major stock assessment areas to date. The seine test vessel MV Queen’s Reach has been conducting stock assessments of herring in some of the major areas, and will continue until April 2.

“The Government of Canada is committed to maintaining stable and productive working relationships with the Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla and Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations (near Port Hardy). Departmental staff will continue with direct communication and will work to seek a resolution,” Rainer of DFO said.

Metlakatla declined to comment on the matter.

To report a typo, email: editor@thenorthernview.com.


Shannon Lough | Editor
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