Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns has added his voice to a growing chorus urging a moratorium on the roe-herring fishery in the Strait of Georgia.
The NDP politician told the House of Commons that herring represent the prime food source for chinook salmon. The salmon, in turn, are the preferred prey of endangered southern resident killer whales, whose numbers have dwindled to 75.
“If a moratorium is not enforced to protect this critical food source and to allow the stocks to rebuild, we are endangering these interdependent species,” he said.
Federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson responded that government makes its decisions based on science and evidence, and that one of the five herring stocks on the B.C. coast is open to a commercial fishery “based on the abundance of the stock that exists there.”
Wilkinson did not refer to the Strait of Georgia fishery by name, but the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said in a previous statement that herring stocks in the strait are at “near historic highs” and that commercial fisheries are proposed for designated areas.
The other four stocks on the coast are considered too low to support commercial roe-herring fisheries, although limited spawn-on-kelp commercial fisheries are proposed on the Central Coast and in the Prince Rupert district.
The roe-herring fishery takes place as the fish gather to spawn in late February and early March.
Johns called Wilkinson’s response in the House of Commons “extremely disappointing” given DFO’s track record of managing the stocks.
“The herring run in the Salish Sea between Vancouver Island and the mainland is the last of five stocks that hasn’t been closed due to overfishing,” Johns said in an interview Friday. “We’re rolling the dice right now with failed practices in the past.”
He said the government has a legal obligation to take a precautionary approach when it comes to protecting a cornerstone of the marine ecosystem.
“The government keeps stating that they support local and Indigenous knowledge, but they ignore it when called upon by local communities to use the precautionary approach.”
As of Saturday, more than 39,000 people had signed Conservancy Hornby Island’s online petition to close the roe-herring fishery in the Strait of Georgia.
Johns says he’s also hearing from constituents “across the board” who are concerned about the issue and its impact on chinook and killer whales.