HELIT TŦE SȽOṈ,ET (Let the Herring Live)

A call to action for the southern Strait of Georgia

On November 7, members of the Pacific Wild team joined representatives from nine First Nations, three indigenous-led organizations, and over 30 environmental groups at a historic gathering in Saanich in defense of Pacific herring. The event demanded HELIT TŦE SȽOṈ,ET, which means Let the Herring Live in SENĆOŦEN. In his welcome, Tsawout Chief Nick Claxton explained the purpose: “moving forward together.”

We heard First Nations Chiefs, Elders and Councillors share the deep pain and loss caused by local herring extinctions in their territories. Indigenous communities harvested herring and their eggs from their territories for thousands of years before these extinctions, along with ducks and other fish that followed the herring schools. First Nations leaders also shared how they are excluded from fisheries management decisions in the Strait of Georgia—even though these decisions impact the ability to exercise their rights to fish.

STOLȻEȽ John Elliott speaks about the importance of herring to the W̱SÁNEĆ.
STOLȻEȽ John Elliott receives a gift of appreciation from Dr. Briony Penn.

In the southern Strait of Georgia, once-abundant herring spawns have been disappearing for decades, lost to the nets of the commercial fishing fleets. W̱SÁNEĆ Hereditary Chief, Eric Pelkey, explained how members of his family and community are dying from diseases caused by diets that no longer contain enough fish. “We have been living off fish for so many thousands of years that our bodies have grown to need fish in order to live. Our people need that herring fishery in order to live. We need that herring fishery in order to survive.” Other representatives discussed the cultural and ecological importance of herring; managing herring with cultural and ecological knowledge; the presence and past abundances of resident herring; and the power of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to determine the historical baseline for fish populations.

There is an urgent need for immediate, meaningful action to protect herring. This fall, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) released new numbers, revealing that the 2019 return to the Strait of Georgia was 30% smaller than expected. The population is predicted to decline further in 2020 to a ten-year low. Herring mismanagement has heavy consequences for our coastal communities and ecosystems. Both traditional knowledge and recent data have shown that the current management system is not working, and during this period of struggle for many inhabitants of our coast, we cannot risk further declines for temporary corporate gains.

Stz'uminus Councillor Terry Sampson has seen the impact of herring fisheries firsthand.
Vanessa Minke-Martin of Pacific Wild
Vanessa Minke-Martin from Pacific Wild talks about herring management.

Pacific Wild co-hosted HELIT TŦE SȽOṈ,ET (Let the Herring Live) with the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council, Conservancy Hornby Island and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and we will continue to work to protect herring on the B.C. Coast.

Go to pacificwild.org to learn more and do your part for our coast’s #BIGLittleFish.

Photos by @alexharrris_⁣.