Herring is Caring -2019 Roe Herring Fishery

Commentary by Captain Locky Maclean

Sea Shepherd crew have been on the ground and in boats documenting this year’s Roe Herring Fishery in the Strait of Georgia. Yesterday’s washing up of a sea lion shot in the head on Hornby Island, leaves no doubt as to the abuse of pinnipeds our crew has been observing on the water. With juvenile fish washing ashore dead (likely victims of test seines) as well as torn gillnets on the beach, our small team was left pondering the parade-like gauntlet of over 200 commercial fishing vessels stringing the entire 6 miles of spawn on the Denman Island Coastline.

Despite DFO’s Brenda Spence’s proclamations, exporting nearly 2 trillion eggs to Japan and grinding the herring into fish farm food rather than letting them grow into healthy wild herring, is not a sustainable fishery. But as DFO is not present during the gillnet component of the fishery and have no fisheries inspectors on the ground to observe, perhaps it does look sustainable, from behind a desk in Nanaimo.

The seine fleet has failed to meet its quotas several years in a row, Sea Shepherd has witnessed test seines pursing juvenile fish, with many floating on the surface belly up once the seine is released.

Photo Credit: Don Peterson Hornby Island BC

After over 12,000 years of First Nations fishing herring sustainably, commercial Harvests reached over 200,000 tons in the 1950’s, dwindling to 50,000 tons in the 1970’s. This year’s 27,500 ton quota looks paltry in comparison to the era when one could rake for Herring at Ford Cove from the dock. My Grandfather’s herring rake hangs on the mantlepiece at home and is a good reminder that all is not well on this coast. DFO’s “Healthy levels” mantra is just a PR fabrication.

With the Seine fleet closing at 7178 tons, and the gill net fleet scraping up the leftovers and having trouble after 4 full days of setting nets to reach a quota of 11,300 tons, how can DFO be so certain that this fishery is taking only 20% of the biomass in the Strait of Georgia, where are all the fish? Have they vanished like the DFO inspectors did last Friday? This fishery used to open and close in hours not days.

Photo Credit: Alan Fletcher

Yesterday a sea lion with a gunshot wound to the head washed up on Hornby Island during the roe herring fishery.

Fishermen including pseudo-organizations made up of active commercial fishermen, are calling for a cull of sea lions to restore their fishery.

These are the same fishermen calling for the sea lions to “go back to California”, what might be lost on them is that these sea lions have been plying the waters of the West Coast longer than people have lived on this continent, and the current swarm of sea lions during the herring spawn is only a barometer that indicates the ecosystem is out of balance, specifically, it has been over-exploited and overfished for too long, with no respite for stocks to recover.

For the Sea lions, the Strait of Georgia Herring Spawn is one of the last places they can feed. They come from far and wide to find food, who can blame them when the other herring runs are all gone? Point Grey in Vancouver was once a major spawning ground, along with many former herring spawns it has been rubbed off the list, as DFO revises and adjusts the baselines in keeping with its sustainable management plans.

Shooting pinnipeds will not bring back the salmon, nor the herring. Leaving the spawning herring alone, as well as the marine wildlife that congregates each year during this critical ecological event, will.

At times the best way to manage a problem is to do nothing, and in this case for DFO, rather than continue a failed decades old industry driven management scheme, doing nothing would mean placing a total moratorium on the Strait of Georgia Commercial Roe Herring Fishery. By protecting spawning grounds to ensure healthy herring populations can thrive, DFO would be lifting the death sentence on iconic and endangered Chinook salmon and calving orcas and improving its track record of overseeing collapsing fisheries.

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