BRITISH COLUMBIA

First Nations fight herring fisheries off the coast of British Columbia

03/07/2015 07:55 EST | Updated 05/07/2015 05:59 EDT
HAIDA GWAII, B.C. - First Nations in British Columbia are fighting the reopening of commercial herring fisheries on their territories, arguing that stocks remain perilously low.

The Haida Nation in the remote community of Haida Gwaii recently won an injunction to block a planned fishery, while the Tseshaht Nation on west Vancouver Island is set to protest the opening of a fishery on Sunday.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

A Federal Court judge released a decision this week that found there was a risk of "irreparable harm" if a large commercial herring roe fishery was allowed to re-open in Haida Gwaii this year.

Justice Michael Manson acknowledged the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has a "heightened duty" to accommodate the Haida, given their constitutional rights and environmental concerns.

He also wrote the government failed to meaningfully consult with the Haida in its plans.

Nation president Peter Lantin said in a statement he hopes the government will start working with the Haida to develop sustainable fisheries.

"This win is another step to building herring stocks, and in doing so, contributes to an economy that will provide a reasonable living for our people, and the path of reconciliation with Canada," he said.

A year ago, the Haida joined two other First Nations to oppose a plan to open a commercial herring fishery that had been closed on Vancouver Island since 2006.

Last March, a Federal Court judge granted an injunction stopping the opening, saying the fisheries minister went against the advice of scientists in her own department.

The Tseshaht Nation in Port Alberni, B.C., said it has learned a commercial herring fishery will re-open Sunday in the Barkley Sound area on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Chief Councillor Hugh Braker said he and other nation members will go out in their boats early Sunday morning to protest the fishery.

"Our intention is to firstly exercise our right to harvest the roe, and secondly to do everything we can to stop the commercial fishery," he said.

Braker said herring are a "prized fish" for his nation.

"We haven't been able to access the herring roe now for many years because the herring were almost wiped out by the government in the '70s and '80s," he said.

"Now they're just rebuilding, so we want them to rebuild some more before we open the fishery. The government has not listened to us."

— By Laura Kane in Vancouver