Just over a year ago, the Heiltsuk Nation issued a tribal ban prohibiting an industrial sac roe herring fishery as they felt stocks had not recovered sufficiently after collapsing years earlier. Commercial gillnet licenses held by the Heiltsuk were voluntarily suspended in support of this declaration.
Ignoring the ban, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) opened the seine sac roe fishery in Heiltsuk territory on March 22, 2015. Instead of giving 24 hours advance notice as requested, DFO informed the Heiltsuk of the opening half an hour after the fishery began. Adding insult to injury, the fishery was opened in Spiller Channel, an area noted to be of high priority for protection by the Heiltsuk.
Protecting the stocks
A few days after the seine fishery was completed, the focus shifted to a potential gillnet opening - the same kill fishery with slightly different equipment. Again, DFO refused to cancel the fishery. Frustrated and concerned for the herring stocks, 50+ Heiltsuk occupied the DFO’s central coast office and grounds near Bella Bella, forcing DFO into negotiations. Subsequently, Heiltsuk members and supporters in Vancouver staged an occupation of DFO’s Regional Office there.
After some 72 hours of negotiations and holding the central coast DFO office on lockdown, the gillnet fleet departed. In the end, the Heiltsuk’s own stock assessments had been accurate – there were not enough fish to sustain a harvest. After DFO declared an opening, the gillnet boats were unable to find any herring. They left the central coast with empty holds. As Heiltsuk vessels escorted the commercial boats out of their territory, the community celebrated the remaining herring along with another unprecedented victory: a signed agreement with DFO that promised joint management of the 2016 herring fishery.
Over the next 12 months, the Heiltsuk worked alongside DFO to plan for the 2016 central coast fishery. These decisions were incorporated into the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan for Pacific Herring. Negotiations on how in-season management would be carried out continued until the 2016 Heiltsuk-DFO Joint Management Plan was signed on March 23rd of this year. At the end of March, this plan was executed with mixed success.
“This has not been an easy process, but we are committed to making sure DFO fulfills its mandate to achieve joint management and to exercise the precautionary principle,” said Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department Director Kelly Brown. “We’ve learned a lot from this last year of negotiations. It’s been trying at times, but we are still confident these joint management agreements can and should be expanded to fisheries up and down the coast.”
We couldn’t agree more.
With the 2016 sac roe herring fishery closed, the focus for the past two weeks has been on managing the SOK and food fisheries and pushing to improve and extend the collaborative planning process to 2017 and beyond.
It is our hope that this joint management plan will allow a sustainable model for the herring fishery that will continue beyond 2016 and provide a model of stewardship applicable to all fisheries on BC’s coast.