Coast Tsimshian First Nations oppose opening of commercial herring fishing

Joshua Azizi
03/26/2021

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The Lax Kw'alaams Band and Metlakatla First Nation are opposing a plan by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to allow a limited amount of commercial herring fishing along the North Coast. 

The DFO recently permitted three operators to obtain licenses to fish for herring.

In a joint press release, the two Tsimshian nations claim the current population along the North Coast is too strained to support either commercial fishing or their own food requirements.

Metlakatla First Nation Chief Councillor Harold Leighton says they've relied on herring for food in the past, but nowadays they choose not to harvest it because the stocks are too small.

"We could have taken part and took a piece of that, but we're saying no. There's not enough there to provide for our community. We'd rather see it closed and we want to see the stocks rebuild."

The nations are also skeptical about DFO's data on current herring stocks, which they argue was collected using outdated methods. 

Lax Kw'alaams Mayor Gary Reece says the band's own staff members found lower levels of herring than what the D-F-O's data found.

"We don't agree with their data and what they're saying. they said there's a low abundance of return again this year, but it'll be enough for a couple of sea license holders to open and we don't agree with that."

The nations are calling on the DFO to keep commercial herring fishing closed so that their numbers can increase.

DFO Director of Resource Management and Sustainability for the Pacific Region Neil Davis defended DFO's analysis of herring stock and said their methods go through a "rigorous" peer review process.

He says the level of herring that operators can fish for balances both conservation efforts as well as economic opportunities for the fishing industry.

"The harvest rates that we are applying this year are very precautionary and have a very high likelihood of sustaining the stock over the long term. So that's the basis from which we have reached this decision about permitting a small commercial fishery this year."

Although they're not sure what their next steps will be, both Leighton and Reece say the two nations will continue to fight for a closure.

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