Time to Stop the Commercial Herring Harvest in Georgia Strait: Open Letter

With Salish Sea First Nations now unable to harvest herring eggs in any meaningful quantity, commercial fisheries need to be paused

Excerpted from a letter by David Ellis

Herring Roe | Photo (CC BY 2.0) by Greg Schechter

Dear Honourable Minister [Fisheries and Oceans Canada] Bernadette Jordan,

Thank you for providing an opportunity to comment on the two herring fisheries (Food and Bait and Special Use) scheduled to open on November 20.

Due to the fact that none of the Salish Sea or Strait of Georgia First Nations can now harvest herring eggs in any meaningful quantity, all commercial herring fishing must now stop in the Strait of Georgia. It is simply systemic racism, to open these fisheries. First Nations’ lives, nutrition, livelihood, and culture matter.

Can you imagine if the Mi’kmaq could not harvest lobster due to resource depletion sanctioned by DFO overfishing that continued under your watch?

The total lack of First Nations’ ability to harvest reasonable numbers of herring eggs is the only science or “stock assessment” that is needed.

Ms. Minister, I hope you will now move to close all commercial herring fishing in the Salish Sea. And then immediately apply the vast scientific resources of the DFO to develop a herring enhancement program. Such a program can and will rebuild this very productive and resilient fish of life, in a remarkably short time.

I have helped document, for two Salish Sea First Nations, the loss of the herring egg harvest, decades ago, for their family and Ceremonial Winter Longhouse life. Their needs and requests continue to be ignored, to facilitate commercial fishing for now tiny but very significant harvests of herring, because this commercial fishing that you are allowing is preventing the First Nations from ever enjoying their culture and full nutrition again.

It is simply systemic racism, to open these fisheries. First Nations’ lives, nutrition, livelihood, and culture matter.

You and your staff should know that on November 7, 2019, members of the Pacific Wild NGO brought together representatives from nine First Nations at a historic gathering in Saanich in defense of Pacific herring. The event demanded Helit Tŧe Sƚoṉ,Et, which means Let the Herring Live. First Nations Chiefs, Elders, and Councillors shared the deep pain and loss caused by local herring extinctions in their territories. Indigenous communities harvested herring and their eggs from their territories for thousands of years before these extinctions, along with the (esteemed for food) Black Ducks and other fish that followed the herring schools. First Nations leaders also shared how they are excluded from fisheries management decisions in the Strait of Georgia – even though these decisions impact the ability to exercise their rights to fish.

The Lekwungen (“Place to Smoke Herring village”) First Nations in the Victoria region also face herring extinction, both due to past herring overfishing and now the destructive effects on herring of the mid-water and bottom Super Trawler fleet that sweeps and re-sweeps vast areas where herring are constantly encountered and killed.

The future can actually be bright for herring, which can and will rebuild. Just as former Liberal Fisheries Minister Romeo Leblanc started the super successful salmon enhancement program, you can and should take the initiative now to start a herring enhancement program. I know many individuals who are already engaged in this in Vancouver and Squamish (successfully) and Victoria and Powell River.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

David Ellis is the former head of Marine Fishes for the Pacific Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada

Watershed Sentinel Dec2020-Jan2021 CoverThis article appears in our December 2020 | January 2021 issue.

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