The relatively sheltered waters of the B.C.'s Salish Sea still supports a substantial herring fishery, whereas other parts of the coast have been closed for a number of years due low abundance. Each spring, herring that spend their summers gaining mass off the west coast of Vancouver Island return to spawn in the Strait of Georgia; these are considered to be the migratory herring. There exist small, perhaps even remnant, population(s) of resident herring, which remain year-round in the Strait of Georgia. Some of these fish are even known to be genetically different from the migrants.
The decision by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to transfer 6,000 tons of allocation from the roe fishery to the winter food and bait fishery is based on the assumption that the food and bait fishery targets the same population of herring as the roe fishery, an assumption not justified by the scientific literature. Prior to opening a fishery on these stocks, this assumption needs to be vetted through a public scientific process that demonstrates no harm will come from such fishing actions. Yet this has not happened.
The Raincoast Conservation Foundation believes that DFO's decision ignores evidence that a resident herring population exists in Georgia Strait, that vulnerable resident stocks are likely to overlap with the winter food and bait fishery and that opening a fishery at this time and in this region could have substantial consequences for resident herring.
Further, we believe this decision is inconsistent with both the precautionary principle and DFO's stated ecosystem approach to fisheries management. Herring play a key role in the greater ecosystem. For example, they are a major source of food for Chinook salmon. From DFO's website:
"Central in the marine food web, Pacific herring are a key fish prey contributing 30 to 70% to the summer diets of Chinook salmon, Pacific cod, lingcod, and harbour seals in southern BC waters. Herring eggs constitute an important part of the diets of migrating seabirds and gray whales, and invertebrates."
In turn, Chinook salmon are a major food source for B.C.'s endangered southern resident killer whale population.
In a letter sent to Fisheries and Oceans Canada in early November, we asked them to reconsider this decision until public and scientific attention could be given to the potential impact this catch increase has at this time and in this region. We have not heard from DFO. The food and bait fishery opened Nov. 7, 2011.
This article was co-authored by Raincoast Conservation Foundation biologists Misty MacDuffee and Caroline Fox.
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