03/26/2015 02:16 EDT | Updated 05/26/2015 05:59 EDT

B.C.'s Heiltsuk Nation mobilizes boats to protect herring fishery

BELLA BELLA, B.C. - The Heiltsuk Nation is vowing to protect herring in its territory by any means necessary as it readies boats to defend a contentious fishery on B.C.'s Central Coast.

The First Nation has issued a news release saying it met with federal officials about a commercial herring gillnet fishery in its territory Wednesday afternoon but failed to reach an agreement.

Kelly Brown, who directs the Heiltsuk's resource management department, says the industry took 680 tons out of the same area with a recent seine fishery, and a gillnet fishery "would only add insult to injury."

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans opened the herring-roe seine fishery near Bella Bella on Sunday, saying there is enough stock to support the harvest.

In an email statement Thursday, DFO spokesman Dan Bate said science forecasts have shown that Pacific herring stock abundance supports a modest commercial harvest.

"Science would, in fact, support a 50 per cent higher harvest rate," the statement said.

The Heiltsuk Nation said it has received strong statements of support from neighbouring bands and other aboriginal governments, including a resolution passed by Coastal First Nations on Wednesday condemning the actions of the department of fisheries.

Chief Coun. Marilyn Slett said she feels the nation has exhausted all means of negotiation with the DFO and it is now prepared to protect the herring "by any means necessary."

"We are saddened that it has come to this, but we cannot stand by while DFO uses flawed science to destroy a resource we have depended on for thousands of years," she said in a release.

"If we don't protect the herring, who will?"

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said it respects the right to protest, but condemns any threat of violence or reprisal against those exercising their right to take part in a lawful and sustainable fishery.

The Heiltsuk Nation is the latest aboriginal band on B.C.'s coast to speak out in a long-standing dispute over the sustainability of the herring fishery.

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