Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is drafting its 2018 management plan for Pacific herring and looking for the public’s thoughts.
DFO herring resource manager Roger Kanno said the federal fisheries agency is preparing its integrated fisheries plan for the herring, which be available for the public to read and comment on in December.
“The plan this year will likely be similar to last year’s,” said Kanno.
A food and bait herring fishery, the smallest of DFO’s four herring fisheries, is currently open in the Strait of Georgia at Pacific Fisheries Management area 15, the part of the strait around the upper Sunshine Coast, although the main harvesting is happening near Hornby Island and Campbell River.
Local conservationist and aquatic filmmaker Terry Brown said with the price of roe dropping on international markets, some of the focus has moved onto growing the food and bait fishery, which is still quite small.
"All of us are pretty firm in saying we don't want any herring fished here, whether it's roe or food and bait," said Brown.
The herring population in the Salish Sea was decimated in the 1980s and there has been a weak recovery over the past few years, but not enough to warrant catching them, said Brown.
“The herring need more time to recover,” he added.
Openings in area 15 did not occur in 2016 or in 2017, but the issue has generated political opposition from Tla’amin Nation, Powell River Regional District and City of Powell River.
All three local governments passed a resolution to actively oppose a herring roe opening in area 15 and wrote letters directly to prime minister Justin Trudeau and then-fisheries minister Hunter Tootoo.
DFO was told any commercial fishing vessel trying to fish the waters would be blocked, said City of Powell River councillor Rob Southcott.
“We asked for a moratorium,” he said.
Kanno said DFO’s test vessel, which conducts regular stock assessments, did not find adequate numbers of fish in area 15 during those years to warrant an opening, although one did open on the western side of the Salish Sea.
Southcott said he is not pleased that the DFO seems to be listening more to international corporate fishing interests than local communities. Local communities in the area do not benefit from the way the current commercial fishery is organized, he added.
"They are supporting the international fishing industry; the money does not even stay in the area, let alone this country," said Southcott. “Fishing in the past did support this community, and Tla’amin Nation as well.”
Herring is one of few issues that cuts across a variety of interest groups, such as commercial fishers and conservationists, said Southcott.
Brown said the return of the herring, which are a forage fish for larger sea life such as salmon and cod, has brought a steadily increasing population of humpback whales to the upper Salish Sea. He said 50 whales were spotted in 2017, about double from the year previous.
"Everyone in the area wants the salmon and cod here," said Brown. "They want to be able to fish and see the whales. There’s a local benefit to that.”