Herring spawn-on-kelp licence holders from the islands will have to take their chances fishing on the stormy waters of the west coast this year if they want to harvest anything.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has closed the traditional fishing grounds off the east coast of Moresby Island due an extremely low forecasted herring return. DFO regional spawn-on-kelp coordinator Steven Groves said the decision to redirect the fishery to the west coast was made in consultation with the 10 local licence holders.
The west coast has always been open during the spring herring fishery, but fishermen usually don’t go there because the weather is so volatile and there seem to be less herring, Mr. Groves said. This year, it will be their only option if they want to fish.
Spawn-on-kelp licence holders who don’t want to fish on the west coast can apply to DFO to waive their $10,000 annual licence fee in exchange for a zero quota, Mr. Groves said. This is a special measure in effect for this year only.
For the fishermen who do venture to the west coast, DFO is allowing a full unrestricted fishery, he said, which means they can set up as many closed ponds as they want. Each licence holder is allowed to harvest up to eight tons of spawn-on-kelp.
The Haida Nation may harvest spawn-on-kelp from the east coast for food, social and ceremonial purposes, Mr. Groves said, because the impact of this fishery is much lower than the commercial fishery.
DFO scientists are not sure why the herring returns are expected to be so low this year, Mr. Groves said, although it does appear to be part of a downward cycle.
“It’s a very difficult thing to try and put your finger on,” he said. “We believe it’s an environmental variation.”
Mr. Groves said it was not possible to say whether the low returns were caused by past overfishing, although he did say that the DFO uses precautionary principles in setting quotas.
Scientists are predicting that only 5,400 tons of herring will return to the waters around Haida Gwaii this spring – less than half the 12,740 tons predicted for last year.
“It’s the lowest return on record,” Mr. Groves said. “It’s a real serious conservation issue. DFO is very concerned.”
Although the commercial roe herring fishery has been closed for the past three years, it is unusual for the local spawn-on-kelp fishery to be closed. Mr. Groves said he believed it had only been closed twice in the past two decades.
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