Last week I sent out a press release warning that a tragedy was in the making for some herring stocks in Georgia Strait as an intense new fishery was being unleashed upon them. I based this warning on Fisheries documents from previous herring tragedies.
In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s 200,000 tons of herring were caught each year on the B.C. coast and reduced to meal and oil. By 1967 herring stocks had collapsed and the fishery was shut done. In 1972 the Herring Task Force was formed to investigate how to avoid such calamities if herring fisheries were expanded in the future.
They concluded that “ best-use management recognizes that the resource and its individual stocks of fish should continue to exist, and that the viability of the resource should not be threatened by the activities of man the harvester, or man the polluter. This means we must not take undue chances in permitting over-exploitation of fish stocks....” (Page 3).
“Some degree of under-utilization must be accepted to provide a margin of safety ....” (Page 6).
‘The second principle of best-use, that of understanding and providing for the role of herring in the overall food chain, means that until such time as the ecological dynamics are understood, it would be wise to leave a further safety margin. This safety margin should obtain especially in the Strait of Georgia where salmon contribute to a valuable recreational fishery.” (Page 7).
“Without a well integrated program to collect the information and do the research, best-use management cannot proceed, and the potential benefits will be lost through endangering the resource...and through a continued lack in public confidence of the ability of the Fisheries Service to manage the resource properly.” (Page 11).
As some Georgia Strait herring stocks recovered, several herring fisheries were begun. The herring roe fishery supplied herring eggs to the Japanese market. This fishery focused on migratory herring that spawned in Georgia Strait but spent most of their feeding time outside of Vancouver Island.
The second herring fishery caught herring live to use as bait and these herring, called residents, spend most of their life in Georgia Strait. While the DFO issued bait catching licenses annually it wasn’t until 1986 that a review of their catches was under taken and published in 1992. (Report 1721) “The absolute harvest of bait herring does not appear to be large, in the order of 200... to 592 tonnes” (Pages7-8).
“...there are some alarming trends. First, there appears to have been a decline in herring in all areas during the last decade....There also appears to have been decreases in the number of localities in which herring regularly spawn.....the exploitation rates we have estimated...may not be sustainable.... (Page9).
The live bait herring fishery on resident herring was terminated in 1987. The runs still decimated include Powell River, Pender Harbour, Sechelt Inlet, Quadra Island and Saltspring Island.
This is hard evidence that an annual catch of 200 to 592 tonnes of resident herring dramatically reduced all runs and destroyed some stocks all together. Recently the DFO has increased the catch of Georgia Strait resident herring from 238 tons last year to 6000 tons this year, to be caught between December and next February.
I suggest that they have forgotten their predecessor’s best-use philosophy “ we must not take undue chances in permitting over-exploitation of fish stocks....” “Some degree of under-utilization must be accepted to provide a margin of safety ....”
From this information, how can a 6000 ton fishery on resident herring not end in tragedy?Jonn Matsen
Please mark Sunday May 26th on your calendars now. More updates can be obtained here or through the Art Council website: Link to Lions Bay Art Council website