First Nation files injunction against DFO for small Smith Inlet herring fishery

·2 min read

Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nations have filed an injunction against Fisheries and Oceans Canada to stop the commercial herring fishing season in their territory around Smith Inlet, on the mainland north of Vancouver Island.

For three years now, Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw have elected to not use their commercial licences — they have two of the three commercial licences available for the area — because their dive surveys indicate herring stocks are too low to sustain harvest.

It’s a small area, not even considered a minor fishery by DFO, but has major significance for the Nation.

“Despite past experience, we continue to be surprised by the way DFO ignores our input and concerns,” elected Chief Paddy Walkus said in a press release.

“For years now, we have not exercised our food fishery for herring spawn out of concern for conservation of dwindling herring numbers. Last year our technical experts found no herring activity.”

Smith Inlet, known to DFO as Area 10, is typically open for herring roe harvest from March 15 to April 15.

The injunction will be heard March 15 by the Federal Court, so DFO has agreed to delay opening the season in that area until after a decision is announced on March 17, according to lawyers for the First Nation.

The harvest of herring roe in the area would be limited to five per cent, according to the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan for herring. Only one commercial licence will be affected by the decision, since Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw have decided not to use their two licences.

In the injunction, they explain that their laws “impose strict obligations on the Nation to act as stewards of the herring fishery,” and the low number of stocks that started in 2018, “prohibits fishing until such time as the fishery properly recovers.”

As part of the injunction, Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw commissioned an ethnohistory of their herring fishery, that outlined the important place herring has in its society.

“Our people have been fishing in these waters for thousands of years. We have rights here, and those rights are constitutionally protected. DFO is supposed to give those rights priority in order to meet its constitutional obligations. We need an economic base to function as a Nation and access to a healthy diet – the sea is the basis of both of these things for our people,” Walkus said in the press release.

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Zoë Ducklow, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Island Gazette