The DFO is defending itself against backlash over the Salish Sea herring fishery.

Conservation groups continue to push for a moratorium on the fishery after the DFO set a 20 per cent quota last week.

Groups including Pacific Wild and Conservancy Hornby Island say that herring in the Strait of Georgia has dwindled by 60 percent in the last four years.

In a statement, the DFO said it’s committed to “effectively managing the Pacific herring fisheries through evidence-based decisions, ensuring the health and sustainability of these stocks into the future.”

The DFO added that the 2020 Pacific Herring Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP) has been approved following a 30-day consultation period with First Nations communities and organizations and with stakeholders such as commercial harvesters. 

“The DFO is aware of the petitions by Conservancy Hornby Island and (Courtenay-Alberni) MP Gord Johns,” the statement read. “(The) DFO has met with Conservancy Hornby Island to hear their concerns regarding herring harvest in the Strait of Georgia and to provide information on our harvest management approach and stock assessment program. The Department will continue to maintain an open dialogue on these issues.”

DFO-provided numbers show that harvest level for the 2019-2020 season in the Strait of Georgia is 10,895 tonnes. 

It says the allowable catch has been reduced by more than 50 per cent from the allowable catch in the 2018-2019 fishing season in response to the lower stock forecast for 2020. 

Pacific Herring spawning biomass forecasts are provided as a range. 

The DFO said that in 2019, “the range of forecast spawning biomass for the Strait of Georgia was 67,000 to 221,400 metric tonnes. The range in forecast spawning biomass for 2020 is 27,000 to 110,000 metric tonnes.”

It added that the abundance of Pacific Herring is “highly variable.” 

“DFO’s harvest management approach is designed to account for this variability. The performance of the approach has been evaluated by DFO science and subjected to scientific peer review. The approach is designed to avoid the harvesting of spawning biomass levels below a limit reference point,” the statement said.

“The reduced allowable catch is consistent with the conservation goals of the management approach and provides an opportunity for industry, including those First Nations that participate in the commercial fishery.”

There are several reasons why the groups say a moratorium should be in place.

They include:

  • collapsing herring stocks, 
  • falling demand and lower prices for herring roe on the international markets,
  • the role herring plays for an array species of marine life and sea birds that rely on them as their main food source, such as chinook salmon and Southern resident orcas. 

Conservancy Hornby Island president, Grant Scott, said 115,000 people have signed its online petition to close the fishery, while 2,500 people have signed the Parliamentary petition to do the same.