Herring research, not fishery, underway

  • Apr. 7, 2014 5:00 a.m.

There will be no commercial herring fishery in Haida Gwaii this year, despite DFO continuing to say the fishery is open.The CHN and industry reached a verbal agreement to stop the fishery on March 17, and both groups are now on the water conducting independent herring stock research.”The spirit of this agreement is a respectful one between the fishermen and the Haida. DFO had nothing to do with this. The fishermen have been caught in the middle of this. And, even after all this, DFO didn’t rescind its decision,” CHN president Peter Lantin told the Observer Monday morning.In January, DFO announced it would re-open the commercial herring roe fishery here after a decade moratorium. Shortly afterwards, the CHN stated their opposition to the commercial fishery because stocks had not replenished sufficiently. The CHN united with the Heiltsuk and Nuu-chah-nulth Nations in opposition, whose waters were also re-opened after years of closure.The Nuu-chah-nulth nations on Vancouver Island won a court injunction in February, which prevented DFO from opening the fishery there. A document used during that case revealed Fisheries Minister Gail Shea ignored scientific recommendations that the fishery remain closed.The CHN made clear early on that it isn’t opposed to a commercial herring fishery in Haida Gwaii once the stocks have sufficiently rebuilt.”The Haida have an economic interest in this fishery. But at the end of the day, we’re balancing the economic benefits of being fisherman with the responsibility of being stewards,” Mr. Lantin said, “Our upbringing is to look into the long-term. What are the fisherman going to fish if we keep this up?”Part of the balance between economic benefit and environmental stewardship involves conducting research to determine if herring stocks are at viable levels. Each year, the Herring Industry Advisory Board (HIAB), DFO and the CHN conduct research in the waters surrounding Haida Gwaii, sending divers down to assess spawning in order to estimate a population.”HIAB and the CHN aren’t conducting this scientific research together, but, in the spirit of the agreement, we are communicating more about where we’re going and what we’re doing,” said Mr. Lantin.Although they’re still in the first stages of this year’s research, he said so far the CHN is seeing half the numbers DFO projected to rationalize the fishery re- opening. They’ll be reviewing the data and will have a firm grasp of numbers by the end of the month.”We’re going to share this information. The HIAB, DFO and CHN are going to debrief and deliberate on what we’ve seen and go over data. We’ll have a discussion on whether or not the stocks are healthy and, if they arehealthy, what does a sustainable harvest look like,” said Mr. Lantin.The Haida, Heiltsuk and Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations united early on to ensure the protection of the herring stocks in their traditional territories. The Nuu-chah-nulth protected their herring stocks with a court injunction, the Haida with a respectful agreement with industry, and the Heiltsuk with determination and a protest blocking commercial fleets.But these endings, according to Mr. Lantin, are bittersweet.”The amount of resources that went into this were unnecessary. The DFO could have rescinded the opening and had a conversation with First Nations early on. All we really wanted was to work together on the health of the stocks. But, here were are and DFO stands by its decision to re-open.””For us, you can’t ignore the fact that the herring fishery closed 10 years ago and that the DFO managed it into this situation. The fact that it was met with resistance is absolutely justified,” said Mr. Lantin, “We’ll never know for sure, but it could have been catastrophic had we fished herring in 2014. Now, we’re going into 2015 with a better indication of these stocks.”

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