Herring fishery collapses on Canada’s Pacific coast

HORNBY ISLAND, BC – The Pacific herring fishery on the west coast of North America has collapsed, joining Atlantic cod in the annals of mismanagement in Canadian fisheries.

Conservancy Hornby Island (CHI), a community organization that has been calling for a moratorium on herring fishing in the Strait of Georgia for five years with the support of numerous First Nations and environmental organizations and the public, has declared the fishery gone. The Northern Gulf Islands region, the barometer of the commercial herring fishery, has not seen a healthy return of herring to its critical spawning beaches this spring and the commercial fishing industry has struggled to reach 50% of a quota already halved by Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray.

“Normally, Hornby and Denman Islands are the epicenter of the last remaining herring spawn. This year, it’s just a disaster. What I know for sure is that I haven’t seen this limited, short spawning time in my 20 years of monitoring the Lambert Channel. It’s a sad story,” said Grant Scott, a retired commercial fisherman and president of CHI, who now campaigns for herring conservation from his home on Hornby Island.

Seagulls are fighting for a herring | Photo credit: Luke Barber

The Strait of Georgia (SoG) herring stock is the last of the five major British Columbia herring stocks on the west coast of Canada. Fisheries managers have been flirting too close to the limit for nearly a decade, passing the tipping point this year, despite a reduced quota.

A recent report by DFO Scientist Emeritus Dr. John Neilson identified the Northern Gulf Islands (using DFO data) as the most important area on the entire BC coast for Pacific herring, which supports half of the remaining critical spawning grounds in the Strait of Georgia. This year, despite the appearance of a few spawning grounds, few herring returned and only 3 of the twelve critical spawning grounds recognized by DFO were active in the northern Strait of Georgia, according to fishing advisories, spawning ground surveys and reports. fishermen.

Despite this, a “special purpose” fishery is still scheduled to open May 1, targeting resident herring. In an email to CHI, DFO stated that “the special purpose herring fishery is currently closed and will reopen to smaller tonnage licenses (≤ 3 tonnes) on May 1, 2022 and larger tonnage licenses (≥ 3 tons) on October 1, 2022.”

Because herring are repeat spawners that return to their natal sites, a one-year lack of spawning can result in the annihilation of future generations of herring, as has happened in the southern Strait of Georgia and other west coast regions. of Canada in recent years.

herring spawn

Herring spawn | Photo credit: Rebecca Benjamin Carey

The main objective of the fishery is to extract the mature eggs to sell them mainly in Japan as a delicacy. The remains of females and all males, approximately 90% of the harvested biomass, are not used for human consumption but for pet food and salmon farming.

CHI and its allies are now calling on the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), Joyce Murray, to immediately halt all new fishing, as the gillnet component of the fishery remains open despite the blocking of catches and the inability to meet this year’s greatly reduced quota. during prolonged opening.

Even after Minister Murray reduced the quota from 20% to 10% of the predicted biomass, herring fishermen were only able to find and catch 4,300 tonnes of their 7,850 tonne quota. “To continue this spring fishery goes against the key principle of Oceans Act — the precautionary principle. The last tiny spawns must be left as they will be essential to understanding and rebuilding our various inshore stocks,” said Dr. Briony Penn, herring advocate, author and professor at the University of Victoria.

Eric Pelkey, Hereditary Chief of Tsawout, WSÁNEĆ Nation, who has been encouraged by Minister Murray’s recent interest in Pacific herring conservation, is disappointed that calls to end the fishery have fallen on the ears of a deaf man: “We are saddened that the minister did not take into account the leadership of WSÁNEĆ the demands of the Council to put in place a much-needed moratorium on the herring fishery. Without herring, we will have nothing. And in the end you will have nothing. Everything will be just a memory.

Although DFO says its management of herring follows a precautionary approach, leading scientists outside the Department of Fisheries disagree. Dr. Daniel Pauly, professor of fisheries at UBC, explains: “Imagine if you have a fishery, like the one we have in the Strait of Georgia, which is relentless and a large fishery…it can wipe it out. And at that time, the stock might not recover… Predators that rely on [on herring] themselves will be in danger. So the herring and all those animals that contribute to Beautiful British Columbia will be gone. And then we can shorten the [slogan] for British Columbia because the Wonderful part will not be there.

sea ​​lions

Sea lions are one of many predators that rely on herring as a food source | Photo credit: Sarah Bennett

“With gillnets still looking for opportunities and barely half of the heavily reduced quota still reached, it is clear that DFO is continuing business as usual managing this fishery to extinction,” said said Locky MacLean, ocean advocate and circumnavigator from the Northern Gulf Islands. “DFO claims to manage a sustainable fishery, but estimates the herring peak by hiring commercial fishing boats to find the fish. They seem to be finding lots of fish on sonar and on paper, playing with numbers and measuring the same fish that dwindle as they move. The fact is that herring populations continue to decline year after year. DFO can only close the fishery once there is nothing left to catch.

Pacific herring populations once extended from California to the Beaufort Sea and Hokkaido in Japan. Cath Gray, Executive Director of Conservancy Hornby Island, says: “There is an urgent need for DFO to implement a fishing moratorium and herring recovery program to protect herring populations and return them to historically high population levels. . Joining the WSÁNEĆ Leadership Council, representing Tsartlip, Tsawout and Tseycum First Nations, who are also concerned that herring may not survive another “business as usual” season, the call for a moratorium is echoed by 53 cities and districts in the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC), more than 63 NGOs and businesses, leading environmentalists such as Dr. David Suzuki, and nearly 200,000 petition supporters.


For more information and to take action, visit www.conservancyhornbyisland.org/herring

Founded in 1991, Conservancy Hornby Island (CHI) is a voluntary organization established to undertake and support local and regional conservation projects to benefit the terrestrial and marine environments of Hornby Island. Each year, CHI hosts HerringFest, a gathering of art, music and renowned speakers that celebrates the annual herring spawn and engages scientists, conservationists, First Nations and local community participants in provocative discussions to help protect Pacific herring.

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