The Department of Fisheries and Oceans recently approved a roe herring fishery in the Strait of Georgia despite calls to shut it down.
In accordance with the DFO’s 2018/19 Pacific Herring Integrated Fisheries Management Plan, a maximum harvest rate has been set at 20 per cent. Grant Scott, president of Conservancy Hornby Island, said this is equal to 27,500 tons of herring.
“We were hoping that DFO would listen to the people and seriously restrict this fishery that just doesn’t make sense,” said Scott. “Herring is the cornerstone species for many of the mammals, fish and seabirds who live in or migrate through the Strait of Georgia … To kill this many herring in the commercial fishery rather than leaving them to support these other species doesn’t make sense to us.”
Herring are an important part of Chinook salmon diets, which in turn make up a large part of Orca diets.
According to Victoria Postlethwaite, Regional Herring Officer with the DFO, the maximum harvest rate is based on an annual stock assessment program that determines the status and biomass of the herring stock.
“While not always achieved in commercial fishery catches, the maximum 20 per cent harvest rate for the Strait of Georgia reflects the best available science which includes consideration of increasing natural mortality rates to account for predator needs (e.g., hake, salmon, marine mammals),” said Postlethwaite. “The harvest rate is tested to ensure it is robust to future uncertainties in natural mortality, and that the removal rate will keep the stock above conservation limits with a high probability (above 90 per cent) and over the long term (15 years).”
In recent years, other zones in the Strait of Georgia management area have been closed due to low spawn levels, including areas south of Nanaimo and along the Sunshine Coast. Haida Gwaii and the West Coast of Vancouver Island have also been closed to herring fisheries as stocks have been low and unproductive for some time.
Spawning herring are believed to not return to the same location they were born, but the environmental and biological drivers for herring to spawn in a certain area are still not well understood.
“The Department is working with First Nations in the Strait of Georgia area to better understand herring distribution, spawn dynamics, and traditional harvest areas,” said Postlethwaite.
Only around 10 per cent of the herring harvested will be consumed by people, said Scott, while the rest of the fish will be ground up into fish meal and pet food.
Postlethwaite said the primary product of the fishery is the roe which is harvested for human consumption, while the rest of the fish can be used for fish meal and fertilizer. The roe herring fishery is exempt from Section 31 of the Fisheries Act which prohibits this.
Conservancy Hornby Island has been campaigning against the fishery since the beginning of January and has received over 46,000 signatures on a Change.org petition.