Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is defending this year’s Pacific herring fishery in the Salish Sea.

The roe herring gillnet fishery closed this past Wednesday and the seine fishery closed March 13th.

In a statement, the DFO said “it’s committed to managing Pacific herring fisheries to ensure that there are enough herring to spawn and sustain the stock into the future and support its role in the ecosystem. The Department works closely with First Nations communities and commercial harvesters to understand herring distribution, spawn dynamics and traditional harvest areas and methods.”

The major stock area of Strait of Georgia, 16,330 tonnes, representing a 20 percent harvest rate, was approved as the maximum harvest level per the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP). 

“This provides for First Nations food, social and ceremonial fisheries as well as commercial fisheries for food and bait, roe and special use,” the DFO said.

  • Roe Seine: Validated catch is 2,717.61 tonnes of the 2,928.10 tonne quota
  • Roe Gillnet: Validated catch is 7,513.39 tonnes of the 7,907.19 tonne quota
  • Food & Bait: Validated catch is 3,703.55 tonnes of the 3,719.46 tonne quota
  • Special Use: 480.18 tonnes of the 818.28 tonnes quota has been landed to date

The DFO says the roe herring gillnet fishery may reopen to target the remaining total allowable catch “if additional fishing opportunities are identified.”

The special use fishery occurs during the non-spawning season and will be active again in May.

“In 2016, DFO initiated the Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE) process for Pacific herring to evaluate the likelihood of how different harvest decisions would be expected to achieve conservation, abundance and fishery objectives,” the department said. 

“Under the MSE process, DFO scientists use computer models to test the ability of various harvest scenarios to maintain herring stocks above the limit reference point (LRP) with a high degree of certainty. Fishing opportunities are available in areas where the stock abundance of herring is sufficient to support sustainable fisheries. Commercial fisheries are not authorized to occur when stock abundance falls below a conservation threshold called the Limit Reference Point (LRP).”

The DFO says herring populations “naturally fluctuate from year-to-year.”

“The Department’s management approach is designed to respond to a varying abundance of herring by adjusting fishing opportunities accordingly to protect the stock,” it said in the statement.

“This year’s harvest strategy will help to protect future stock health. DFO will continue to adjust management plans based on the best available science and data.”

Meanwhile, the Association for Denman Island Marine Stewards say the DFO is putting herring stocks at risk.

They point out that this is the last herring stock on the coast that DFO allows to be fished commercially by seiners and gillnetters.

“All the other herring stocks have collapsed under DFO’s management when subjected to similar kill fisheries,” they said in a release.

“Many Denman Islanders, and the Association for Denman Island Marine Stewards (ADIMS), have for many years witnessed this glorious spring phenomenon, a true marine Serengeti, and are deeply concerned that this stock will be lost like the others, and the marine ecosystem of the Salish Sea will suffer the same devastation caused when the herring were decimated elsewhere.”

They added, “We mourn the death of herring, which would otherwise return to spawn many more times. We mourn the empty bays and inlets, once abundant with herring, which fed so many First Nations communities. We’re angry and sad that over 85 percent of the herring killed go for fish meal instead of feeding the salmon, the eagles, the sea lions, whales and migrating birds, who surely need them more as they themselves will be having young this spring.”

The stewards say “animals go hungry while herring are ground up to feed fish farms.”

The stewards say they and their allies, which include Conservancy Hornby Island, Pacific Wild, the WSANEC Leadership Council and David Suzuki “will continue to campaign for protection of the herring on this coast, a moratorium to all herring kill fisheries until the herring rebound, and for DFO to develop true ecosystem-based management practices that respectfully integrate First Nations traditional knowledge.”

“We cannot allow DFO to continue mismanaging the herring fishery until this keystone species, which is the foundation of the pacific food web, is lost completely.”