Tensions rise ahead of B.C. herring fishery season
Wildlife advocacy groups say support for closing the province's last herring fishery has never been so high
Wildlife advocates on Vancouver Island say their calls to close the province's last remaining herring fishery have never been so loud, as commercial fishing boats enter the Strait of Georgia for herring fishery season expected in early March.
PacificWild's Ian McAllister said many people in B.C. are deeply concerned that the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is allowing the commercial fishery to open once again in 2020.
This is despite government estimates that the total mass Pacific herring in the area will fall from 130,000 metric tons in 2016 to around 54,000 metric tons in 2020 — a nearly a 60 per cent decrease over four years.
"It's totally unsustainable that these populations are at critically low numbers. They need a reprieve," said McAllister, adding that herring are a major food source for chinook salmon which are in turn the favoured prey of endangered southern resident killer whales.
In its 2020 Pacific Herring Integrated Fisheries Management Plan, the DFO recommended that a 20 per cent herring harvesting quota be placed on the fishery once again — a limit that's been set annually for a few decades.
McAllister is worried that as populations continue to decline, over-harvesting will become even more likely. He said it's "beyond understanding" that the DFO won't at least lower the fishing limit.
Rich Ronyecz, a Qualicum Beach resident and member of the local advocacy group Herring Aid, said the economics of continued harvesting "do not make sense."
"You're risking thousands of [related] jobs down the line if you overfish. You're risking First Nations heritage… It's vital to let these herring spawn," he said.
DFO says herring management is evidenced-based
A statement from the DFO says it "relies on evidence-based decisions to effectively manage the Pacific herring fisheries," adding the 2020 herring report was approved after consultation with First Nations communities, organizations and commercial harvesters.
It said the allowable catch is consistent with conservation goals, and "allows for economic opportunity for fish harvesters whose income depends upon this work."
"Our priority is preserving the health and sustainability of these stocks into the future," it said, noting the department will "continue to maintain open dialogue on these issues."
Concern larger than ever in 2020
Ronyecz said Herring Aid has a rally planned on Sunday at the Qualicum Beach Waterfront, and hopes hundreds of people will attend.
McAllister said that the "level of interest and concern and scrutiny has elevated dramatically" in the last year. "People are much more educated about this… Many more businesses, organizations, and First Nations [are] stronger on this issue," he said.
The concerns are echoed by federal MP Gord Johns, who last year called for a moratorium on the fishery while a sustainable plan could be developed to revive herring numbers. Last December, Johns began a petition to suspend the 2020 Salish Sea fishery and compensate commercial fishers who would be impacted.
Another petition published by Conservancy Hornby Island over a year ago has now garnered more than 119,000 signatures from people all over the world.
Grant Scott, the organization's president, said he never expected so many signatures. He said a number of events at the Conservancy's Herring Festival, planned for next week, have already sold out and hundreds are expected to attend.
McAllister said he and the PacificWild team will be "in the water looking at the state of the fish, the populations, and the size of the fish" during the fishery over the next few weeks.