In this Marc h 18, 2019 photo, herring cover the bottom of a barrel at a bait dealer in Portland, Maine. The threat of over fishing and the impact a herring population collapse could have on British Columbia’s marine ecosystem, particularly chinook salmon and southern resident killer whales, has conservation, environmental and some Indigenous groups demanding an indefinite halt to the fishery. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Robert F. Bukaty

In this Marc h 18, 2019 photo, herring cover the bottom of a barrel at a bait dealer in Portland, Maine. The threat of over fishing and the impact a herring population collapse could have on British Columbia’s marine ecosystem, particularly chinook salmon and southern resident killer whales, has conservation, environmental and some Indigenous groups demanding an indefinite halt to the fishery. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Robert F. Bukaty

B.C. herring fishery ends for another season, controversy over catch continues

Critics say 75,000 people signed a petition calling for an end to the herring fishery in the Strait of Georgia

Commercial fishing boats on the B.C. coast have returned to their home ports after a successful spring herring roe fishery in the Strait of Georgia off Vancouver Island, but opponents of the catch are already gearing up for next season.

The threat of overfishing and the impact a herring population collapse could have on British Columbia’s marine ecosystem, particularly chinook salmon and southern resident killer whales, has conservation, environmental and some Indigenous groups demanding an indefinite suspension of the fishery.

“It’s just a matter of time before the Strait of Georgia herring collapses and all those boats are forced to wait at the dock,” said Ian McAllister, executive director of Pacific Wild, which called for the suspension of the roe herring fishery this year.

“If you left that 20,000 tons of herring in the water it could be the catalyst to rebuild stocks to allow chinook salmon to recover, to allow the starving southern resident killer whales to have enough food.”

But Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientists say the herring population in the Strait of Georgia is the healthiest it’s been in almost 70 years, which is the major reason it approved a roe fishery this year.

“I’m looking at a time series that goes back to 1950,” said Neil Davis, the department’s resource management director. “They’re as high as they’ve been in that whole time series.”

Herring roe is a sushi delicacy in Japan, but the tiny silver fish is also ground into food for farmed salmon and other fish, as well as fertilizer. Herring also feed the marine ecosystem as a diet staple for salmon, seals, sea lions, sea birds and humpback whales.

The Fisheries Department heard the concerns of conservation and citizens groups about over fishing of herring and protecting the marine ecosystem, but the scientific data and meetings with industry and local advocates resulted in the decision to open a roe fishery, Davis said.

“Other things feed on herring: seals, sea lions, salmon, who in turn are prey for things like killer whales,” said Davis. “That’s one concern we’ve heard from a number of groups. My response to that is that our first job in managing the resource is to make sure we’re managing it in a fashion that’s sustainable and conserves the resource long term.”

READ MORE: Record 1,100 dolphins wash up on French shores this year

Commercial roe fisheries on the west coast of Vancouver Island, the central coast, and off the Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert coasts were not held this year due to insufficient stocks.

But Fisheries and Oceans projected a spawning biomass in the Strait of Georgia for 2019 of about 138,000 tonnes and set the total allowable catch for commercial fisheries at just under 29,000 tonnes. The total catch to date in the Strait of Georgia roe fishery for both seine and gillnet fishery combined is about 15,800 tonnes, Fisheries said Wednesday.

Commercial fisherman Darrel McEachern of Maple Ridge said the season went well for him.

“We got ours. We were pleased. DFO does a good job, what else can you say,” he said.

McEachern, 72, said he has been fishing herring since 1973 and this spring they were abundant and the roe catch will be profitable. He said he spent about seven days aboard a 17-metre gillnet packer chasing herring in the Strait of Georgia with other members of his family.

Grant Scott, president of Conservancy Hornby Island, said he could see the seine boats and gillnetters pulling in herring last month from his home on the island, about 200 kilometres north east of Victoria.

Scott said the community celebrates the arrival of the herring with a festival in March, but he views the fishing fleet with concern.

“This is the last one of the five or six major spawn areas really from Alaska to Mexico,” he said. “To think they are managing the last one the way they managed the other five, and it all resulted in over-fishing and the eventual collapse, we just find it sad and a tragedy.”

He said 75,000 people signed a petition calling for an end to the herring fishery in the Strait of Georgia.

Scott said the disappointment of this year’s roe fishery will not deter his group from pushing for changes during the coming federal election campaign and prior to a new herring season.

“We’re going to write an alternate, truly ecosystem-based herring management plan that we hope to have put together by scientists that we want to present to the public next year when DFO brings out their herring forecast,” he said.

Jaclyn Cleary, head of the Pacific region’s herring stock assessment program for Fisheries and Oceans, said there are differing opinions, even among scientists, about whether there should be a fishery for forage species, such as herring.

She said much of the debate she heard this year from people opposed to the herring fishery involved comments about the connections between herring and declining salmon populations.

“We know the importance of herring for chinook based on diet studies,” Cleary said. “We also know that adult herring aren’t in the Strait of Georgia year round. If the science were that simple there wouldn’t be a debate. It’s not that simple. We don’t see these clear relationships between chinook biomass and herring biomass in the Strait of Georgia.”

Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, said there was no commercial herring fishery on the west coast of Vancouver Island and her Indigenous groups has suggested on ongoing closure for the next three to five years to allow stocks to rebuild.

READ MORE: Has the Shuswaggi lake monster been caught on video?

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Preparations are made for a video recording at White Rock Baptist Church that will be part of this weekend’s Christmas on the Peninsula online event. (White Rock Baptist Church Facebook photo)
Christmas on the Peninsula moves online due to COVID-19 restrictions

Annual event – normally held in uptown White Rock – set for Saturday, Nov. 28

Jack Herring, 3, met Santa at a 2017 ‘Cram the Cruiser’ event held by White Rock RCMP. This Saturday (Nov. 28), the detachment will host a drive-thru collection drive as part of its month-long children’s clothing drive. (File photo)
Children’s clothing, winter wear sought at White Rock RCMP ‘main event’

Drive-thru collection day set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 28

Lisa Werring, Surrey Christmas Bureau boss, inside the charity’s new home. (Submitted photo)
‘Toys, toys, toys, we need toys’: Surrey Christmas Bureau calls for donations

‘It’s been a challenging season to say the least. Every day is a new adventure,’ says bureau boss Lisa Werring

Extras in Promises include many who currently serve in uniform in law enforcement, the military and the Canadian Border Services Agency. Contributed photo
Movie traces Punjabi soldiers’ role in battle during Second World War

Surrey director and White Rock councillor participate in film project

Sukhi Sandhu, organizer of Wake Up Surrey. (File photo)
Wake Up Surrey welcomes Lipinski as city’s new police chief

But Surrey Police Service will not solve Surrey’s gang violence on its own, Sukhi Sandhu says

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the project site in Kitimat. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

7-year-old Mackenzie Hodge from Penticton sent a hand-written letter to premiere John Horgan asking if she’d be able to see her elf, Ralph under the new coronavirus restrictions. (John Horgan / Twitter)
Elf on the shelf an acceptable house guest, B.C. premier tells Penticton girl

A 7-year-old from Penticton penned a letter asking if she’d be allowed to see her elf this year

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A woman being arrested at a Kelowna Value Village after refusing to wear a mask on Nov. 22.(@Jules50278750/Twitter)
VIDEO: Woman arrested for refusing to wear mask at Kelowna Value Village

RCMP claims the woman was uncooperative with officers, striking them a number of times and screaming

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

Most Read