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B.C. environmental group calls for moratorium on Georgia Strait herring fishery

Last Updated Jan 25, 2019 at 12:11 am PDT

(iStock, Photo)

An environmental group is calling for a herring fishery to be shut down

Herring are the main food source for Chinook salmon, the main source of food for southern resident killer whales

HORNBY ISLAND (NEWS 1130) — A B.C. environmental organization believes the way to ensure the survival of southern resident killer whales is to better protect their food chain.

Conservancy Hornby Island is lobbying to temporarily suspend the Pacific herring fishery on the Strait of Georgia. The small fish has a big role: the main food source for those endangered whales is Chinook salmon – and Chinook salmon feed on herring.

“Do we want to take this vital ecological treasure and grind up 90 per cent of it for fish farm and pet food?” asks Grant Scott, president of the conservancy. He notes the roe, or eggs, from the females are destined for Japan, but the males and the rest of the females are ground up in a reduction process to make animal food.

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“We’re not saying no herring at all, we’re just saying we don’t like the idea of it being ground up in a fish farm food. If we can get a fishery that’s smaller, gets more money out of it, more sustainable, creates more jobs, we’re all for that,” he says.

The conservancy has even launched a petition addressed to the fisheries minister, to temporarily shut down the fishery.

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Not only does the group feel there should be more beneficial uses for harvested herring, but it also doubts the stocks are as robust as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans says they are.

“We’ve talked to people around Hornby Island, the First Nations elders, and we ask them what they saw over the last 50 years. They recall massive herring runs in Burrard Inlet, Saanich, and all the way up the Sunshine Coast. We have a terrible time believing the stocks in the whole Strait of Georgia are at historic highs,” says Scott.

DFO contests claims by environmental group

For its part, the DFO says it conducts annual, coast-wide Pacific herring stock assessment surveys, which is how it sets herring harvest rates each year. It also says it has met with the environmental group to explain its harvest management approach:

We have met with the group to hear their concerns regarding herring harvest in the Strait of Georgia and to provide information on our harvest management approach and stock assessment program. Future meetings are planned and we will continue to maintain  an open dialogue with Conservancy Hornby Island on these issues.

Section 31 of the Fisheries Act prohibits the harvest of fish for use in fish meal and fertilizer except under the authority of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. Roe herring caught along the coast of BC is excepted from the operation of Section 31.

The Georgia Strait Pacific herring fishery begins in March. The DFO says stocks on Haida Gwaii and the West Coast of Vancouver Island remain at low levels and will be closed to all commercial fisheries.

Fisheries and Oceans plan for Pacific herring
herring plan