British Columbia

Quota for B.C.'s lone remaining herring roe fishery too high, says scientist

David Suzuki research scientist Scott Wallace says allowing a 20 per cent harvest of all Georgia Strait herring doesn't take into account the importance of the fish to the greater ecosystem.

DFO's allowable catch rate of 20% in the Strait of Georgia should be cut in half, according to conservationist

The herring fishery quota in the Strait of Georgia has been set at 20 per cent, a figure that is unchanged from recent years. (Robert F. Bukaty/The Associated Press)

Quota rates for the Pacific herring fishery will remain largely unchanged this year, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, including another year of a 20 per cent harvest in the critical Strait of Georgia zone, B.C.'s only remaining commercial herring roe fishery.

But a senior research scientist with the David Suzuki Foundation says government fishery managers should have taken a more conservative approach and cut the Strait of Georgia quota to 10 per cent.

"Herring are interconnected to pretty much every component of our fabulous B.C. ecosystems," said Scott Wallace.

"The difference is that we think an animal that's so important should be given the utmost precaution in terms of how it's managed ... and the only way to do that is to narrow the amount of risk you're willing to take in harvesting it."

The 2020-21 Pacific Herring Integrated Fisheries Management Plan released Friday calls for the following maximum harvest levels:

  • Strait of Georgia: 16,330 tonnes, representing a 20 per cent harvest of herring biomass in the zone (commercial fisheries for food and bait, roe and special use).
  • Central Coast: 1,760 tonnes, representing a five per cent harvest rate (spawn-on-kelp commercial fisheries).
  • Prince Rupert District: 910 tonnes, representing a five per cent harvest rate (limited access for spawn-on-kelp commercial fisheries).
  • West Coast Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii: closed to commercial fisheries.
  • First Nations food, social and ceremonial fisheries are permitted in all areas.

Neil Davis, DFO director of resource management, said stock conservation was the top priority and that the 20 per cent harvest rate in the Strait of Georgia has been proven to meet conservation objectives.

"The harvest rates that we apply to our estimates of the biomass actually ensure that the majority of mature herring and all juvenile herring remain unfished," said Davis.

Fishing boats working the Strait of Georgia herring fishery in 2018. (CHEK News)

Strait of Georgia herring stocks are the healthiest of the five management zones and the only one able to support a commercial herring roe fishery.

But Wallace said there is cause for concern within the zone.

"The population [of herring] is becoming less distributed. Nobody knows the exact reason for that, but once again, by reducing the harvest rate, you increase the likelihood that they could further distribute to other areas," he said. 

Davis said herring stocks on the West Coast of Vancouver Island are still too low to consider opening a commercial fishery.

"As a precautionary measure, we have decided to keep commercial fisheries closed to provide that stock additional time to keep rebuilding," he said.

Herring are food for many species of sea birds and fish — including salmon — as well as whales, orcas and other marine mammals.

B.C. herring products are predominantly sold in Japan where roe is considered a delicacy, with smaller markets in China and the U.S.

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