Sunday, 12 March 2017

Georgia Strait Herring Roe Fishery

Along with many other interest groups, sport fishers would like to see the end of herring roe fisheries that send eggs to Japan as a caviar type specialty food. The problem in the fishery is that the next generation of herring, and the bearing-aged females, are both eliminated at the same time.

My understanding is that herring roe fisheries have been winding down in other areas of the province, but in early spring, local news is filled with stories of gill netting herring in the Hornby Island, Baynes Sound area south of Courtenay/Comox. Sadly, this year, one fisherman was lost off Cape Lazo.

Our perspective is that herring should be allowed to rebuild and provide food for salmon, particularly chinook that reside in or pass through our waters up to 12 months of the year. This would aid the Pacific Salmon Foundation’s work to rebuild Strait of Georgia coho and chinook, a sport fishery with a conservatively estimated potential of contributing $200 million to the BC economy. In addition, by bumping up chinook numbers, we also aid our orcas in rebuilding.

One of my various list serves has been discussing the remaining industry. I am told it is owned largely by Jimmy Pattison, with commercial fishers working for him, a circumstance few of us would support. 

DFO does soundings and fly-overs to estimate herring biomass. You may have heard in the news that herring is at near historic levels (even though past graphs of abundance on DFO’s site show figures far higher than in 2017). While not all the figures below add up, here is the recent DFO commercial post:

DATE: Mar 9, 2017
Shelter Pt to Cape Lazo-------Mar 8: Schools in the shallows 
E.C. Denman Island------------Mar 9: Scratches 
Lambert Ch. to Chrome Is------Mar 9: Scratches 
E.C. Hornby Is----------------Mar 9: Not assessed
Tribune Bay/Lower Hornby------Mar 9: Not assessed
Upper Baynes Sd---------------Mar 9: A few schools
Lower Baynes Sd---------------Mar 9: 6,000 tons 
TEST: Mar 9 Lower Baynes 9.5% 19.7cm 59m:50f 47-2-2-4-5(20gm:85gm)
Mapleguard to Nile Cr---------Mar 9: Not assessed
Nile Creek to French Cr-------Mar 9: Not assessed
French Cr to NW Bay-----------Mar 9: Not assessed
Total 14:  60,000 tons 
Dorcas Pt/Schooner Cove-------Mar 9: Small schools
Inner Nanoose-----------------Mar 9: Not assessed
Outer Nanoose-----------------Mar 9: 1,000 tons 
Blunden to Neck Point---------Mar 9: 3,000 tons
Neck Pt to Dodd Narrows-------Mar 9: 500 tons
TOTAL AREA 17N:  5,000 tons assessment underway
AREA 17 SOUTH-----------------Mar 9: Not assessed
Total Area 17N: Not assessed
TOTAL STRAIT OF GEORGIA: Assessment underway.
There are three test vessels assessing Area 14 concentrating from Komas to the Horseshoe and in Baynes Sound this morning. There have been large heavy schools located in Lower Baynes Sound below the ferry crossing. 
The seine fishery opened today March 9 at 10:40 hours in Lower Baynes Sound. 
The fishery was also open on March 8 from 07:45 to 14:00 hours, catch estimate 3,000 tons; March 6 from 11:00 to 16:00 hours, catch estimate 2,500. The total seine fishery catch estimate on hails and validations is 6,000 tons of the 13,013 ton quota. 
The roe herring gill net fishery has been open since March 4. The catch for the gill net fishery is 6,700 tons of the 15,171 ton quota.   
Spawn flight this morning from Nanaimo to Rebecca Spit observed light spawn 
Nuttal Bay, 2.5NM at Willemar Bluffs, and 6.5 NM Lazo to Kitty Coleman. Total 
miles of spawn to date observed from the flights are approximately 30 NM. There will be a spawn flight tomorrow morning, weather permitting.
Also a reminder to the fleet transiting the Nanoose area that Whiskey Gulf 
Range is active today. 

From the list serve, comments from David Ellis, who used to be the chair of COSEWIC: (See: Former Head, Pacific Fishes, COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada). I pass these on as they help to inform the issue from a perspective other than our sport:

“In B.C. today, sounding estimates of the size of schools or herring biomass are only made during the frenzy of the commercial fishery, but in fact, B.C. First Nations, sport fishers and local people can and do monitor the size and location of herring schools all year, by sounding or watching for heavy bird activity. The large "migratory herring" schools that move in to spawn in the Salish Sea in the spring, can and should also be monitored in the summer months in the outside waters of Juan de Fuca Strait and Cape Flattery. They are a massively important long term economic asset of the Canadian people.

“Thus as the last "old fashioned exploitation" roe herring fisheries collapses, the emerging future is a "herring enhancement program" that will turn over "stock assessment" to local community commercial fishermen, First Nations harvesters, volunteers, or sport fishers, who together can provide year-round, better long term data on the size of the herring schools. The data gathered by these dedicated local folk, now needs to be co-ordinated with that from a fleet of new, smaller, and affordable Government chartered assessment vessels that can and will “sound” and monitor the herring schools, all year.”

Ellis has penned a note to PM, Justin Trudeau, DFO Minister, Dominic LeBlanc, and Treasury Board President, Scot Brison, dated March 12, 2017:

“First Nations, fishers, environmentalists and Tour operators have worked together to shut down the old-fashioned roe herring fishery on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, and Haida Gwaii, and, after a monumental effort, have succeeded; the same pressure is leading to much smaller roe herring fisheries on the central and north coast this year.

So, herring is actually rebuilding as we speak, at a great rate (great thing about herring, is that it does this, and rapidly!) all over the coast, EXCEPT in the Salish Sea, where the remnant herring stocks are being scientifically located by DFO, and then everywhere fished down for yet another year in the roe herring fishery. 

The major problem now is that DFO policy has not yet changed and is still designed around proving roe herring to Pattison's Canadian Fishing Company plant in Vancouver; this despite the fact that:

A). First Nations are and always will be left without roe herring for family use, forever, if the large female herring are killed every year by roe herring fishing;
B). The market for roe herring has collapsed in Japan, and only the Jim Pattison Group is still making a profit; corporate concentration, in this case the control of all seine vessels through mortgage, and of the gillnets by low "paid to the fisherman" prices, leaves only Mr. Jim Pattison the wealth creator (at the expense of everyone else, as this is a publicly shared "common property resource");
C). The DFO "forage fish" policy is much discussed but not yet implemented;
D). Chinook salmon, totally dependent upon herring for growth and good health, are bottoming out in terms of returning numbers (biomass) and size coastwide, leading to nutrition and survival problems for endangered Orca [which may in turn lead to the legal shut down of the Trans Mountain pipe line construction] and the stifling of the potential multi-billion-dollar sport fishing industry for the world-sought Chinook salmon;
E). Coho salmon, heavily dependent upon "young of the year" herring, are failing to rebuild in the Salish Sea, also stifling a potential multi-million-dollar sport fishing industry component; and,
F). Sea bird populations, heavily dependent upon many herring spawns and abundant "young of the year" herring, are in decline in the Salish Sea, and this is stifling a potential multi-million-dollar bird watching industry, and public joy for both residents and tourists. 

I want to suggest that the reasonable solution for the Government of Canada is to re-assess the situation in terms of economic efficiency and fair distribution of public benefits, and now do the right thing and develop, with the public, new and futuristic public policy that will:

A). Announce a ten-year closure of roe herring fishing in B.C., and divert these government personnel and funds to:
B). Plan and implement a comprehensive "herring enhancement program" that focuses on herring rebuilding and community participation in this program through assessment of all herring populations, all year, and full protection and rehabilitation of herring spawning habitat (already begun by private sector volunteers at Squamish, B.C.).”  

Food for thought. 

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