Protect Pacific Herring

The goal

Pacific Wild is working with central coast communities to highlight the importance of herring while also advocating for an end to the unsustainable kill fishery so that stocks can rebuild and a locally-based spawn-on-kelp fishery can flourish.

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The issue

The small silver Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) is considered a foundation species for the B.C. coast because of the contribution it makes as an ecosystem driver for both the marine and terrestrial realms. In early spring, the annual herring spawn provides a rush of nutrients at a critical time of year to a plethora of wildlife, including seabirds, marine mammals, wolves and bears. Herring may spawn up to ten times in their lives.

Central coast herring stocks have declined precipitously over the past 100 years, to the point of local extirpation of spawning in many areas. Overfishing is commonly thought to be the main cause, while recovery may also be hampered by changes in water temperature, elimination of elder fish that guided schools through migration and spawning, and increases in predators and competitors. The extent of the herring’s role in ecosystem function in not fully understood, nor is it taken into account in federal fisheries management. In addition, government methods for estimating herring stock returns are highly uncertain. 

For decades, the Heiltsuk and other First Nations have been advocating for a sustainable fishery that would allow central coast stocks to return to their former abundance. However, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) continues to support the corporate-controlled kill-fishery, even against the recommendations of its own scientists. 

The traditional First Nations spawn on kelp (SOK) fishery involves the suspension of tree branches, kelp fronds and other seaweeds in sheltered areas where herring spawn prodigiously in early spring. The roe builds up in multiple layers on the substrate until harvesters collect it, and the adult fish are left to spawn again in the future. In contrast, industrial seine and gillnet fisheries (collectively known as the sac roe fishery) net and kill the herring and export the roe, while the rest of the fish is mainly used for pet food, fish farm pellets and fertilizer.  

In 2016, after months of negotiation, the Heiltsuk Nation announced it had reached an agreement with DFO for managing the 2016 herring fishery within their traditional territory. This new plan promises a reprieve for the threatened herring and a level of transparency and collaboration previously unseen on the coast - but it hasn't come easily. The Nation's focus is now on managing the traditional fishery and pushing to improve and extend the collaborative planning process to 2017 and beyond. Many of our supporters raised their voices to support the Heiltsuk Nation during the 2015 conflict with DFO, which led to the co-management agreement for 2016. We thank you! Stay tuned for updates - we hope to see a long-term commitment to co-management for herring, and agreements reached in other territories on the coast as well. 

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