Years of industrial fishing resulted in the near collapse of local herring stocks and decades of controversy over the management of the herring fishery in the Great Bear Sea.
Today, where herring stocks haven't already disappeared, they are at risk. Unless the management of the industrial roe (egg) herring fishery changes fast, this crucial foundation fish could disappear from the coast, taking with it herring-dependent species like Chinook salmon and killer whales, and pushing millennia of First Nations tradition into the history books.
The Heiltsuk First Nation has been pushing Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to do more to protect Pacific herring for years - and it's finally paying off.
In 2016, for the first time ever, DFO carried out a formal "joint management" agreement with the Heiltsuk. This agreement meant the Heiltsuk had a seat at the table when DFO decided where and when to open the roe herring fishery in their territory. The Heiltsuk's uncompromising commitment to protecting herring during this year's spawn - a crucial moment to ensuring the regeneration of the fish - resulted in:
- more accurate abundance forecasts;lowering the harvest rate from 10% to 7% to allow continued recovery time for stocks;
- ecologically and culturally significant areas being closed to the roe herring fishery;
- Heiltsuk observers on the DFO vessel at all times during the herring fishery; and
- prohibitions on night fishing.
This agreement has paved the way for more like it, up and down the coast.
First Nations throughout the Great Bear Rainforest are proven stewards of Pacific herring. Archaeological records prove they have sustainably harvested herring for millennia and, today, they are among the most dedicated advocates for herring conservation. They are the ideal and the rightful candidates to work with DFO to undo decades of federal mismanagement.
Over the last two years, we have been supporting the Heiltsuk behind the scenes as they fought for, secured, and saw through this joint management agreement.
In the weeks and months ahead, we're going to be working alongside the Heiltsuk in their bid to continue joint management into 2017 and beyond, as well as to support more First Nations in getting their own joint management agreements. To do that, we're going to need the support of the Pacific Wild community behind us - spreading the word, taking action when needed, and donating to make it all possible.
So, what do you think?